21 Sep 2023

Do We Love Justice? A Journey in the Psalms

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: American Empire, Discipleship, Kingdom, Mission, Psalms

Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16.20, NRSV).

“Justice is what love looks like in the public arena” (Cornel West).

As you know we read through the Psalter every month in a lectio continua fashion. I frequently post a meditation on the mornings lection (reading). Today’s prayer lection was Psalms 96-100. These Psalms are short and celebrate King Yahweh and God’s kingdom. These psalms are so short we can read the whole lection a few times (and I recommend just that). The Hebraic idea of “justice” permeates the whole.

American disciples often misunderstand the term “justice” believing it is primarily a punishment idea. Such common expressions as “justice was served” reflect this belief. But in Scripture while punishment is sometimes associated with justice that is not the primary idea behind the biblical word. Justice is to make things right. It is a very positive notion not a negative one. Widows, orphans, aliens and even creation do not celebrate that they are getting punished but that they will finally be made whole. The predicament they are in will be made right.

These Psalms today proclaim that Yahweh is King and God puts the world “back together, correctly.” That really is the essence of biblical justice. Righteousness and Justice are extremely difficult to distinguish and are often paired together in synonymous parallelism. Even where the actual word “justice” is not in the text, the psalm is filled with it.

Take Psalm 98 as an example. The entire Psalm is a celebration of what happens in the world when Yahweh is King. It is a world filled with HESED and FAITHFULNESS (grace & truth), God’s name tags from Exodus 34.6. It is a world where even creation (seas & mountains) clap their hands because

let them sing before the Lord,
for he
[Yahweh] comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity
.” (98.9-10).

This is easily translated as “he judges the world in JUSTICE and the peoples righteously.”

These Psalms hit me. The Spirit always uses God’s Word to hit us as we are living life. Here God’s People are being confronted with God’s vision for Justice. God’s vision for “salvation.” God loves justice because it is part of God’s identity. Suddenly, I heard the question, maybe it was from Casper or from another source: Do you love justice?

The hubbub about Colin Kaepernick on my Facebook wall came to my mind. I took a quick scan of the nearly 300 comment thread. The question came back: Do we LOVE justice?

We love Americanism.

We love one anthem (not that other one).

Do we love an anthem more than Justice?

If we love justice, why the shift from Favre to CK?

But do we love the Black National Anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing)? We love whatever excuses us. We love, we worship, patriotism. (If you do not know Lift Every voice follow the link to YouTube now).

But do we love justice?

Suddenly, these morning texts made me step back and look at the whole book of Psalms. Justice and the identity of the God of Jesus are inseparable and supposedly endemic to the people of God.

What follows is the English verses in the NIV that have the word “justice.” There are dozens of texts, like Psalm 98, where the term does not appear in English but is the foundation of the text anyway. We just need to learn to have eyes and ears. So do we love Justice. Note that in the texts that follow it declares that Yahweh does “love justice.” That justice is part of God’s love (hesed), part of God’s faithfulness (emet), part of God’s acts of grace.

Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
” (Psalm 7.6)

The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
” (Psalm 9.16)

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face
.” (Psalm 11.7)

The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.
” (Psalm 33.5)

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals
.” (Psalm 36.6)

In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.
” (Psalm 45.4)

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
” (Psalm 45.6)

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
” (Psalm 50.6)

Endow the king with your justice,
O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
” (Psalm 72.1-2)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you.
” (Psalm 89.14)

I cannot recommend Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy enough. Read it. Then read it again.

Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne
.” (Psalm 97.2)

The King [Yahweh] is mighty, he loves justice—
you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done what is just and right
.” (Psalm 99.4)

I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord,
I will sing praise.
” (Psalm 101.1)

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” (Psalm 103.6)

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
” (Psalm 112.5)

I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
” (Psalm 140.12)

Justice is a powerful and pervasive, theme in the Psalms. Many many more texts (again like Psalm 98) can be cited. Do we hear what they are saying?

Justice in the Psalms, and in fact always in Scripture is social. The word “social” means “relating to society.” Note the texts: widows, orphans, courts, aliens, the king (Psalm 72) making sure this is done. This is social justice if there ever was social justice. God’s justice is by definition social. It heals the injustice and imbalance in relationships between people.

Yahweh loves justice. Does God’s people actually and truly love justice? What offends you? Injustice to the poor? a “minority”? Injustice to the aliens?

Which do we think, based on the texts themselves, do we think Yahweh finds offensive?

The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Jesus was like, Moses, “Pursue justice and only justice” (Deuteronomy 16.20).

My Psalm prayer time this morning had me wrestling. Do I love, not tolerate, or think it is a worthy goal among lots of other things. But do I love justice?

Let me recommend getting to know Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative.

When the Spirit whispers in your ear … what do you say?

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INTRODUCTION: Caricatures of the Hebrew Bible

I grew up with the idea the “Old Testament,” when it was even mentioned, was “inferior.” It was a system of “law,” a system of ritual, a system devoid of genuine “faith.” The Hebrew Scriptures were, as the saying goes, “fleshy.”

Thus Ashley S. Johnson (1857-1925) in his very influential book first published in 1899 but kept in publication throughout the Twentieth Century, The Two Covenants, wrote,

I call your attention to this one thought that this covenant was not built upon the heart, it was not built upon conscience, it was not built upon the mind … but it was built upon the flesh of Abraham” (p. 11).

The first covenant, the law of Moses, the daily administration of this institution worked chiefly on the outside, from without toward the heart instead of from the heart … I respectfully and reverently declare that the law of Moses with all of its promises … did not furnish a sufficient motive to these people to love God as He desired to be loved” (p. 61).

It is a fact beyond any cavil, beyond any doubt, beyond any contradiction, beyond any controversy or argument that – and I want to burn it down into the depths of all your hearts – that this institution was of a character that held a sword or a menace over the people from the day that they were born until the day that they died” (p. 63).

But Jesus liberated us from such acrid stuff! This point of view is fresh to my memory almost daily when I visit various “Church of Christ” Facebook groups. The view is based on a highly selective reading of a very limited number of Pauline passages or Hebrews.

Despite Johnson’s impassioned declarations, I do not grant his claim. I have long rejected the view a gross caricature of Paul/Hebrews and most of all the Hebrew Scriptures themselves. And the view certainly is not based on Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Habakkuk, and hundreds of pages of the Hebrew Bible itself. Such views are certainly difficult to defend from Psalm 19 or Psalm 119 or any of the Psalms. In fact Paul and Hebrews both believe that Abraham is what “Christian” faith is all about. Hebrews considers Moses to be a towering figure of faith and loving devotion surpassed only by Jesus. But Moses is not alone, every example of “faith” in Hebrews comes from the Hebrew Bible or Second Temple period (the Maccabees).

A worthwhile resource to read, reread and ponder is Daniel I. Block’s stimulating essay “Hearing Galatians with Moses: An Examination of Paul as a Second and Seconding Moses” in The Triumph of Grace: Literary and Theological Studies in Deuteronomy and Deuteronomic Themes (Cascade Books, 2017), pp. 374-404.

Psalms 116 and Paul

The God of the Hebrew Bible was not a sadomasochist. And Yahweh did not repent and get baptized between Malachi and Matthew. The word “love” occurs more in Deuteronomy than in any Pauline letter including Romans and 1 Corinthians.

Last Summer, we were in a series of sermons titled, “Singing with Jesus” we focused on the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118) sung by Jesus during the Passover. Psalm 116 as part of the Hallel Psalms was used during Passover, Pentecost, Booths, Hanukkah, New Moon festivals. It was used by Jesus the night he was betrayed. These great texts were as ingrained in any Second Temple Jew as “Amazing Grace” is in present congregations.

The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of Ashley S. Johnson’s classic, The Two Covenants. A series of sermons originally delivered in February 1899.

Paul sang these songs as much as Jesus or any other Jew. In a wonderful context in 2 Corinthians 4, the Messianic Pharisee, cites Psalm 116.10 in verse 13. In this text, Paul explicitly states that his (and any believer in the resurrection of Messiah) faith is “the same” as that in the so called “Old Testament.” He says,

But just as we have the SAME SPIRIT OF FAITH that is in accordance with scripture – ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ – we also believe … because we know the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and bring us with you into His presence” (4.13-14).

In the context, Paul has been enumerating his “afflictions” for the sake of the Gospel of the Messiah of Israel (vv. 8-11). Indeed we are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (v.10). This is a remarkable parallel to the entire Psalm, for the psalmist also experiences tribulations that are akin to death. “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish” (Ps 116.3).

But Yahweh delivers the psalmist because God is the God of Mercy (Paul mentions God’s mercy as the basis of his ministry in v.1). The psalm ends with the very public, out in the open, proclamation of the faithfulness and Hesed of Yahweh in the presence of all the people. The death of God’s precious ones is a source of great pain in the God of Israel, whether of King Jesus, Paul or you and me. It costs Yahweh!

How PAINFUL it is to the LORD
when one of his people dies!” (Good News Translation)

The death of the devout
costs Yahweh dear.” (Jerusalem Bible)

Costly in Yahweh’s sight
is the death of his faithful” (New Jerusalem Bible)

The death of His faithful ones
is grievous in the LORD’s sight” (TANAKH: New Jewish Translation of the Hebrew Bible)

The death of the LORD’s faithful
is a costly loss in his eyes
” (Common English Bible)

(Psalm 116.15 is grossly misleading in numerous translations from the KJV to NRSV to NIV. Make sure you read it in the TEV/GNB, CEB, NLT, NJPS, etc, God is not celebrating the death of the Psalmist rather such a death is grievous, sorrowful, costly, horrifying to Yahweh. See my article: Precious in the Sight of the Lord is the Death: A Misunderstood & Misused Text (Ps 116.15)

The Psalmist has been delivered from the tentacles of death and bears witness to God’s Hesed. How can he/she repay God’s grace? By committing to the Lord. This is the story of Paul too. Paul knows this psalm by heart. He mentions the “cup of salvation” previously to the Corinthians themselves (116.13,17, cf. 1 Cor 10.16). The faith of Israel in the Psalm is our faith.

Paul says that his/our “faith” is the “same” faith one finds in the Psalm or “Old Testament.” Or as Paul, who never heard of the “Old Testament” says instead “in accordance with scripture” (cf. 1 Cor 15.3-4). It is

τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πίστεως (“the same spirit of faith.”)

The phrase “the same” (τὸ αὐτὸ) is (see Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the NT, pp. 348-350 for the use of the intensive pronoun in the attributive position) means “the same.” 😉 For example, this exact construction is used three times in 1 Corinthians 12.8, 9, 11. (The “same” construction is also in v.5 but it is the “same Lord“).

“τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα” (12.8)

“τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα” (12.9)

“τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα” (12.11)

In each case there is a different gift (wisdom, healing, all gifts) but “the same spirit.” For Paul we have “the same spirit of FAITH” as believers in the Psalms and Israel. In fact our faith is “in accordance with scripture.

Directed to Gentiles

It is extremely significant that this statement is directed to Gentiles. Paul believes the Gentiles are Gentiles no more. Because they have come to accept the Messiahship of Jesus they are now “citizens of Israel.” They are non-Israelite, non-Jewish, citizens of Israel. He identifies the Gentile Corinthians with the People of Israel several times in his correspondence with them. Thus previously to these same former Gentiles, in 1 Corinthians 10, he places the Corinthians squarely in the Story of Israel, specifically the Exodus/wilderness generation.

I do not want you [Corinthians] to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that OUR [Paul’s/theirs] ancestors were all under the cloud …” (1 Cor 10.1).

Then Paul uses the same kind of construction we have in 2 Corinthians 4.13,

all ate the same spiritual food [τὸ αὐτὸ πνευματικὸν βρῶμα]
and all drank the same spiritual drink [τὸ αὐτὸ πνευματικὸν ἔπιον] …” (1 Cor 10.3-4).

Just as Paul saw the Corinthians through the lens of the Exodus story (1 Cor 10) and claims that the Corinthians, when they sit at the Lord’s table, are eating the “same spiritual” meal as “ OUR ancestors” (think on that one for a while!), so the Psalm shows that he and the Corinthians have the same faith as the Israelites. Pauline and Corinthian faith is the “same” and it is “in accordance with the scriptures.

Paul applies his quotation directly to not only King Jesus’s resurrection but ours.

we also believe, and so speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus …” (2 Cor 4.14).

The Psalm celebrates the psalmists deliverance from death and his/her resulting public proclamation. We have the “same faith” as Israel if we belong to the King of Israel. When we think about this it should not really surprise us but it should change how we talk and often how we think.


Paul’s opinion about the nature of “faith” in Israel is slightly different than Ashley Johnson’s. The Psalmist is no miserable person and is effusive in praise for Yahweh’s grace, mercy, deliverance and filled with unspeakable joy and faith. For Paul the Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 4, if it be genuine faith, is actually “the same spirit of faith” that is found in the Hebrew Bible.

Most commentators spend little time on 2 Corinthians 4.13-14. But the old Church Father, John Chrysostom, however, devotes five full pages to Psalm 116.10/2 Corinthians 4.13 (Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 2, pp. 99-104). He waxes eloquently on the nature of this “same faith.” Peter Balla has a short discussion in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, pp. 764-765).

Related Articles

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Unbearable Burden? Did Jews (Paul) Believe the Torah was a Burden?

The Presupposition of the New Testament (The “Soul” of New Testament Christianity is Jewish)

First. Some of our “apostates” have had significant impact in other religious movements. A sizable portion of the Stone Movement became part of the Shakers. And Sydney Rigdon, a preacher in the Campbell Movement became incredibly influential in what is now known as the Mormon Church. Rigdon’s “defection” took a number of well known preachers with him and a contingent of believers as well. In the 1830s the Mormons referred to themselves as the Church of Christ because of Rigdon. Now they are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Alexander Campbell was among the first to give a detailed examination of the Book of Mormon (which remains valuable to trace “changes” made in that book). John Thomas, the inventor of the “Rebaptism” false doctrine in the Restoration Movement left with his legalism to found the Christadelphians. David Lipscomb would later quip that John Thomas had been “baptized” over twenty times!

Second. The Stone-Campbell Movement was, as a whole, a vicious critic of the 1611 King James Version. That is, it was argued vigorously that:

a) the KJV was inaccurate frequently because of the theological bias of the translators;
b) that the KJV was inaccurate because it was based on a faulty Greek text;
c) that the KJV was inaccurate often simply because the translators were limited by the extent of knowledge of their day.

So in a bold move the Stone-Campbell Movement led the way in producing an English translation based on the latest Greek text in contemporary speech. This is a rich legacy we have but some preachers of less stature than their 19th century mothers and fathers have traded that legacy in for a bowl of bad soup.

Third. The Stone Campbell Movement was never isolationist. The leading publications of Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott not only frequently corresponded with journals and leaders of Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian and other fellowships but would reprint whole articles from such sources. The great missionary activity of Adoniram Judson, William Carey, and others was followed and even celebrated in our writings. Even in debates over such things as baptism – especially with Baptists – the debate was over the proper understanding of the sacrament not whether or not the “others” were actually Christians. There is a gigantic difference in perspective here.

Fourth. Like all Christian fellowships of the day, the Stone-Campbell Movement was deeply divided on the matter of slavery. Alexander Campbell was anti-slavery but not an abolitionist. His views are complex but he was more concerned about unity (as he understood it) than justice to put it simply. Like many “law & order” people today, he counseled obedience to the Fugitive Slave Law.

However, Campbell’s sister was a true “uppity woman” however. Jane Campbell McKeever was not only a vocal abolitionist but she, and husband Matthew, were conductors on the Underground Railroad. A bounty was placed on Matthew’s head by southern slavers. Wouldn’t it be most interesting to be a fly on the wall at dinner time. In 1854, Jane wrote in Ovid Butler’s abolitionist Gospel paper:

Surely the broken-hearted, blind, and bruised slaves, are among those whom our glorious Redeemer came to deliver; and shall we, who profess to be the disciples of the Lord Jesus, assist in depriving them of the blessings of that salvation, by denying them the unspeakable privilege of being permitted to learn to read the word of God—tell it not among the scoffers of our holy religion, lest they rejoice—publish it not amongst the infidels, lest they triumph to hear that those who profess to take the Bible alone for their rule of faith and practice, and knowing that the Saviour has commanded them “to do to others as they would have others to do to them,” should be riveting the fetters of ignorance, oppression, and degradation upon those for whom Christ died. But language fails me in expressing my opposition to, and utter abhorrence of, the syetem [sic] of slavery” (NWCM 1 [1854], 153).

Gotta love those uppity women of the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Fifth. Alexander Campbell was a proud naturalized citizen of the United States. One does not have to go far in his speeches or writings to see the sense of gratitude and even awe he held the USA. But Campbell could also be quite objective about the flaws in his adopted land that he felt one who pledged allegiance to the Lamb should have. When Andrew Jackson ordered the removal of the “Five Civilized Tribes” from their property in the South, Campbell protested vocally and called it what it was. Sin, Greed, and injustice. When the United States invaded Mexico, Campbell delivered his famous “Address on War.” Something that most certainly did not win brownie points with many war hawks. In fact he was labeled unpatriotic! Campbell called it a blatant act of naked and premeditated aggression. It was a thinly veiled land grab to in the interests of slavery. It was in fact sin. Campbell’s speech was sent to Congress and he printed as well. Campbell notes that patriotism is not necessarily a Christian value at all. It is not a fruit of the Spirit. Rather those who pledge their lives to the Lamb hardly can countenance such national sin.

Just five forgotten things of our Stone-Campbell Heritage.

The Way prayed the Psalms

The Bible is loaded with prayers. There are 150 of them in the Psalms (151 in the Greek Septuagint). It is difficult to find a section of the Story of God without the prayers of the saints. We find them in Genesis, the Prophets, the Epistles and even in the Revelation of John. The Psalter (i.e. Book of Psalms) has been the “prayer book” of disciples of Jesus because Jesus himself was devoted to praying the Psalter. The Way was immersed in the Temple worship in Book of Acts, which was saturated with the Psalms. Something akin to producing “wonder” happens when we cultivate the discipline of praying the Bible. We find one great example with the Way in Acts 4.

THE SETTING: Saving a Cripple & Fall Out

Luke lingers long, a full chapter and half, on the salvation of the lame/crippled man (Acts 3.1-4.22). The saved man is a microcosm of what genuine salvation looks like. A crippled man (the kind of person Jesus speaks of in his Jubilee message in Lk 4.18-19) has been “rescued,” he has been “saved” (4.9; Gk, σέσωσται) from shackles of death and decay operating in God’s world. The “Jubilee” message and mission of the resurrected Messiah Jesus has saved this man (Peter stresses the resurrection of Jesus’s body, 3.15,26; 4.2, 10).

This caused trouble with the Sadducees (4.2), whom Luke has already told the readers do not believe in the resurrection of the body (Lk 20.27). So Peter, John and the Saved Man, are hauled before the court. They are locked up overnight. They are castigated and threatened to not speak of this again. But released (Acts 4.21).

Peter and John go find the disciples (we are not told what happened to the Saved Man). Peter and John relate what the Sanhedrin had said. They had been forbidden to preach the resurrection of Messiah Jesus, with the implication that next time more than a night in jail awaits them.


Luke tells us that “they all together” (4.23) blended their voices in prayer. All men and women (since males and females are included in Acts 2.17-18). When they prayed, they prayed the Bible (Hebrew Bible/OT). They cry out to the “Sovereign Lord” who has “made heaven and earth and the sea.” Already to the first century listener of Acts the words of the Bible are ringing in our ears, the Psalms. The Psalms of Ascents which every Jew knew and could recite in their sleep.

God the Creator is, for Israel, an extremely comforting thought. Such Psalms, familiar to Jesus and the Way, as the Songs of Ascent directly link the notion of the Creator to God’s protection and presence. Psalm 121 links the idea of God as Creator directly to protection.

My help comes from Yahweh,
who made the heaven and earth.”

Yahweh is the Maker of Heaven and Earth which means he “watches over you” and he “keeps” Israel (6x)! See Ps 124. Yahweh promises the exiled Israelites that “he who created you” … “Israel’s creator” is the King. This means, again, presence and protection. So “when you pass through the waters … they will not sweep over you … When you walk through the fire you will not be burned.” (Isaiah 43.2).

Because the Creator owns Israel and is with them (Isaiah 43). The Gathered Saints in Acts 4.25ff call out to that Creator God because they are about to walk through the fire!


And it is fire. So they pray the Psalms. In fact it is Psalm 2 they utter in unison to heaven. The renewed people of God find themselves in the Scriptures of old. The grasp who they are in, and with, the Story of the Hebrew Bible. They pray Psalm 2 (they probably prayed the entire prayer but Luke quotes only verses 1 and 2). Their Hebrew Bible is the source of prayer. It is the source of what to pray. It is the source of understanding what is happening “now” and what we are to do “now.” This is the real authority of Scripture in that it shapes and molds who we are and what we do in the here and the now.

Why did the nations/gentiles rage,
and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
and the rulers have gathered together
against the Lord and against his Messiah

(Acts 4.25-26, citing Psalm 2.1 from the LXX)

The nations (Romans) and the peoples (Sadducees/Chief Priests) in the persons of Herod and Pilate have both attacked God’s anointed, the holy servant Jesus … AND his followers.


When these disciples prayed the Bible, what did they pray for. First the disciples are not surprised that they are attacked. They knew they would be because it was in their prayer text in the Psalms. If the nations raged against the Lord and his Anointed then we will surely not be exempt. And this was genuine opposition from the Powers that Be. This is not someone taking an ad out in the paper or taking away school prayer or calling us names. This is a direct challenge to the Messiah Jesus and the resurrection.

Second. When they prayed the Hebrew Bible they confessed that the Scripture was true. They pray the psalm back to the One who gave it and then tell the Sovereign Lord, it is true (4.27). They confess that the holy servant/child Jesus was handed over. But this too, took place because the Bible was true. This very Scripture, that they found themselves in, states clearly the powers will make war against the anointed.

Third. In light of the promised presence and protection of the Creator and the truth of the Scriptures they do NOT pray for the removal of the persecution. They did not pray as I likely would have. They did not pray for deliverance from the challenge at hand. Instead they prayed for the power to be BOLD in the face of those who oppose the Lord and his resurrected Messiah.

So now Master, look on their threats; and grant that we, your servants, may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing” (4.29-30).

They prayed for boldness. Removal of the threat lessens the chance to bear witness. They would be witnesses to the new creation salvation that has broken in through King Jesus and his resurrection. They would be witnesses to that renewed world.

Suddenly the place they are gathered is shaking and rocking back and forth with wind (pneuma/spirit). God showed up (in my mind it is reminiscent of Psalm 29 where God’s people are praying and the storm/wind shows up and shakes and quakes the whole house).

Two things resulted from the prayer:

1) They did speak with boldness in the face of the powers that be

2) They were united in mission in the face of threats and this unity manifested itself in “nobody said they owned their property” (4.32).

Praying the Bible, especially the Psalms can result in some radical stuff in the life of God’s people. Wonders await in praying the Psalms with the early Way.

8 Sep 2023

Jesus the Eternal Jew: Incarnation & Resurrection

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Gnosticism, Jesus, resurrection, Salvation

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God …
The Word became flesh and
made his dwelling [ἐσκήνωσεν] among us” (John 1.1, 14, note the third person singular aorist active indicative).

What did God do to redeem creation? What costs were involved in the salvation of sinful humanity and vandalized creation? Does salvation ensure God’s purposes in creating in the first place?

Sometimes we modern disciples do not fully understand our own faith. Many factors contribute to this. Our penchant for reading the Bible in isolated “morsels,” or playing “hopscotch/leap frog” with the biblical text. A major contributor is our penchant for reading New Testament texts not only in isolation of the Hebrew Bible but as if they are opposite of one another. These, and other factors, contribute to our sometimes missing matters that are actually quite fundamental historically to our faith as Christians.

For example, the Incarnation. Scripture binds Incarnation and Resurrection together and refuses to untangle them. The Resurrection of Jesus’s body ensures the continuation of the Incarnation of the Word in Jewish flesh. Thus as John states in his Prologue Jesus is the Eternal Jew. Jesus the Jew is more than a mere historical datum, a piece of trivia. The Word, John declares, became flesh as a Jew and was raised from the dead in that same human flesh. Word became “Incarnate.”

The Word that was “with” and “was” God did not temporarily rent some human flesh only to cast it aside as some worthless rag at some point. That in fact is the very thing the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, claims. Jesus’s human, Jewish, flesh was in fact rented, then cast aside as despised trash. The role of Judas in that Gnostic text is to help Jesus “escape” his very human, very Jewish flesh by betraying Jesus the enfleshed Jew to the cross in order to liberate him from his flesh and blood body. (See my article, The Gospel of Judas: Reflections & Thoughts).

But John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, will have none of it. John’s term in John 1.14 comes from the Septuagint (i.e. Greek Old Testament) and is God’s own promise of dwelling in Exodus 25.8 and numerous other texts (John insists that Jesus remains in the same flesh he was Incarnate in and raised in! John uses both the present and perfect tense to describe Jesus’s incarnate state.

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [present tense]; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!” (2 John 7, NRSV)

He “has come.” He has not left.

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [perfect tense] is from God” (1 John 4.2, NIV)

When John wrote 2 John he describes Jesus’s Incarnation as something present to his reader, not something past. He is not talking about 4 BC in 2 Jn 1.7. In what we call 1 John he is even more specific using the perfect tense for the participle. It is a strange construction in English but John did not write to people who spoke English but Greek. The perfect tense occurs in the NT far less frequently than the present and when it is used it is deliberately. The perfect tense is used to describe an action/even that happened in the past but continues on in the present. Or as Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace put it, the perfect describes the “present state of affairs resulting from the past action.” Two examples to help us. Jesus says in John 19, “It is finished.” This is in the perfect tense. Something was completed and its results continue to “now.” Or “I have married your mother.” This means at some point in the past I married your mother resulting in a state of affairs showing that I am currently married to your mother. When John deals with the false teachers in Asia Minor he brings them to the Incarnate Jew named Jesus, who is the Messiah/King of Israel, and refuses to surrender an inch.

The only time the New Testament uses the term “antichrist” is in reference to those who denied that Jesus’s Incarnation continues. John uses it in 2 John 7 and again in 1 John 4 of the same people.

The Word that was “with” and “was” God has made his dwelling, his home, with creation. The Revelation of John uses the same term in Revelation 21.3, “See, the home of God is among humans. He will DWELL with them.”

This is not temporary dwelling. The Word became enfleshed in a Jew from Nazareth. The Word did not assume flesh. The Word became flesh. Jewish flesh.

That Jesus came to dwell/incarnate in flesh among humans within the created order and that God will dwell among humans on the new/renewed Earth is a remarkable parallel pointing to the goal of God for Creation since “the beginning.” In fact this dwelling by the Word and God among humans comes straight out of the Hebrew Bible in which God continues to say. It is in fact a deeply pervasive theme in the Hebrew Bible and stressed in multiple ways (i.e. tabernacle/temple).

I will look with favor upon you … I will maintain my covenant with you … I will place my dwelling in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Lev 26.9-13).

The Word became flesh in a specific historical person, Jesus the Jew. That Jew was crucified. And that Jew was Raised from the dead a Jew. And that Jew, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of Mary, was declared by God to be the “Messiah/Christ.” The identity of Messiah is tied forever to Israel. In fact he simply cannot be “King” (the word Messiah means King, the one who sits on David’s throne) unless he is the Son of David.

The Perfect tense in Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, p. 573

The Hebrews Preacher goes at it from another direction. He speaks of our “High Priest.” But to be “high priest” or any priest the person must be a human being. And the Preacher switches from calling this person “Jesus” to “Christ/Messiah.” The Messiah is the priest-King from the tribe of Judah. The Christ is the Priest. But he is from the tribe of Judah (David’s tribe). There is a Jewish Priest King in the presence of God representing humanity. (You can’t get more Jewish than from the tribe of Judah, where the word “Jew” comes from!).

Again this is no useless historical tidbit. To make this the most “personal” we can, among other things, my personal identity is guaranteed preservation because Jesus’s identity was preserved in as Model and Promise to us.

It matters!

Paul states in his little book we call Ephesians that God’s “eternal purpose” for creation itself was carried out by “Messiah Jesus our Lord” (3.11). That includes the “rich variety” of God’s wonderful redeemed creation. (again we cannot call Jesus “Messiah” without identifying him as a Jew).

If Jesus ceased to be who he was, then I too will cease to be who I am. But that was not God’s goal! The “Creator God of all things” (Eph 3.9) did not send the Word to destroy human flesh in its beautiful diversity as Gnostics claim. Jesus was not raised from the dead as a “spirit being.” In fact the New Testament explicitly contradicts any notion of resurrection that is not of the body. Notice Luke’s words.

They [i.e. disciples] were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24.37-39, NIV).

Jesus was raised as he died, the Son of Mary, the Son of David. And was in that raised from the dead Jewish body that Jesus ascended to the Father (Lk 24.50-51; Acts 1.9-11) to enter the holy of holies to be our Priest-King from the Tribe of Judah as Hebrews insists and John says he “remains” in that Jewish body. In fact, to be the Messiah is by definition, in the NT, the “Son of David. This Son of David is our Mediator as Paul puts it,

For there is one God
and one mediator
between God and humanity,
the human Christ Jesus

(1 Timothy 2.5, CEB).

Instead, the Word became a particular human being, in a particular time, and a particular culture, and sanctified that particularity. And in the Resurrection of that Incarnate Flesh of that particular Human Being as the Model and the Promise of what God will do with all the “rich diversity” of creation testifying to the wisdom of the Creator God (Eph 3.10). Paul calls that “model” the “first fruits” a very rich Hebrew Bible image.

To put it another way: Jesus the Jew is why it matters that Martin Luther King Jr was and will forever be who he was before his life was ripped away from him (as Jesus’s was from him). The Resurrection of Jesus’s Jewish life makes Martin’s Black Life Matter! Jesus’s Jewish life makes Rosa Parks Black Life Matter. Jesus’s Jewish life is what makes the 26 Japanese martyrs (of February 5, 1597) Japanese Life Matter.

And it is Jesus the Eternal Jew who guarantees by his Incarnation and through his Resurrection in that Jewish flesh as the Son of David, the Son of Mary … Jesus’s Jewish life is what guarantees that Bobby Valentine will remain Bobby Valentine and his very human body will be “redeemed” through the resurrection of the Jewish Messiah. This is not only our hope as Christians but the hope of all creation (Romans 8.10-11, 22-25).

That creational diversity of God the Creator is “holified” in one particular human being: Jesus of Nazareth, the Word enfleshed now reigns as the Messiah, Song of David. The God of Israel did not destroy the body of the Incarnate Word, rather God crowned that Jew as King (Messiah) making him Lord of all nations where not only as Messiah but Priest he remains a human interceding on our behalf until all the enemies of God are defeated. In Messiah Jesus heaven and earth are united together reaching God’s goal for creation in the beginning.

The point of Incarnation was the salvation of what God created, not its annihilation. God created the world in love in order to share communion with it. Through Jesus of Nazareth, the one who will forever be the Son of Man and the Son of God, has united this purpose of God. And God will dwell with humans through King Jesus, forever.

Remember Jesus Messiah, raised from the dead, descended from David [i.e. Incarnate as the Son of David]. This is my gospel” (2 Timothy 2.8 ).

(P.S. this is also why we love the Hebrew Bible)

Related Reading

Jesus of Nazareth: Does it Matter that the Messiah is a Jew?

Good evening from the Land by the Bay. Some Sunday evening reflections on the important matter of being the people of God.

On this Day, God’s Family joins hands around the globe. People who look like Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Nigerians, Mexicans, Russians, Syrians, Jews, red, yellow, black and white but have been made One Family by the death and resurrection of the Son of David, King/Messiah Jesus.

We are all Saints by the washing of the blood and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit being graciously brought into the holy presence of our Abba by the Spirit. We, not I, stand together before the Throne of Grace to praise the Lord of all nations thru the King of Israel, the Son of David, the Son of Mary. We are surrounded by Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Israel, Miriam, David, Peter, Paul, Mary, Huldah, Phoebe, Junia and millions more who join us in thankful praise. Do you have eyes to see? ears to hear?

A text that often comes to my mind for hearing the Spirit of the Lord is Isaiah 58. Those who imagine the “Old Testament” to be legalistic or ritualistic have never listened to it. Jesus taught the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah is more concerned with worship in “spirit and truth” than many seem to be today. Sometimes we seem to love the idea of worship, its “acts” like singing songs, the fasting (vv 1-2) but it is only self serving. In fact, gathering in worship is sometimes ego driven thus occasion for fighting (v.4). It is a way to further one’s own economic status.

But Isaiah says it is far easier for church people to go to church than to BE the church. Singing songs, even acapella, and fasting is nothing, if it does not make us come out looking like, smelling like and loving like Yahweh. If our songs and worship “acts” meant anything then why are we not “loosing the bonds of injustice?” (58.6), why are we not setting the captives free? (58.6)? Why are we not behaving like incarnations of Yahweh to those around us?

Jesus quotes a line from Isaiah 58 in his Jubilee manifesto in Luke 4. Most are aware he quotes from Isaiah 61. But when he opened up Isaiah to the proper column in the synagogue scroll, the column “next door” would have Isaiah 58. And Jesus took a line from that column and added it to his scripture citation, Isaiah 58.6, “let the captives go free.” This naturally fits with Jubilee itself.

A central point of the Sabbath is the divine grace of setting people free (Deut 5.12-15). If we have encountered the Redeemer God in worship then how could we not become redeemers ourselves?

Those who fast, those who worship, will love their neighbor in deed not mere word. So Isaiah says we will take the poor into our house, we will feed the hungry and cloth the naked. This is what Yahweh does (Deuteronomy 10.17, read verses 12-22).

Indeed our Lord, who knew this text intimately, echoes Isaiah 58 as the basis for judgment on the “Day of Judgement.” In Matthew 25.35 our Lord says,

for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
and I was naked and you clothed me.

This is stuff straight out of the Law of Moses and Isaiah, long before Jesus. Isaiah said true worship is

sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the homeless into your house,
seeing the naked and clothing them
…” (58.7, cf. Deuteronomy 10.17f)

Sounds a lot like what Jesus said.

Worship is supposed to transform us into what we are. We are a multinational, multiethnic, multilingual (cf Rev 7.9-10) … FAMILY before God. The family is a family of little messiahs (anointed ones) bringing the Kingdom of God (enacting God’s will on earth as in heaven) to the aliens, the poor, the needy, the hungry, the suffering, in short being Year of Jubilee people, being Sabbath People, and thus setting the captives free.

Worship makes us redeemers. Worship makes us Exodus people.

Worship is never about me. Worship is about God transforming me so that I can sacrifice myself for your benefit.

No wonder folks would rather go to church than be the church.

But may the Spirit that gives life to every living thing give life to God’s family to be Jubilee in the fallen and hurting world around us.

Pray for Eyes to see and Ears to hear what the Spirit is saying today. Read Isaiah 58 today. Marinate in it.


Deeply Biblical Theology We Should Sing More Often

A Hymn

This is my Father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my Father’s world
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees
Of skies and seas
His hands the wonders rod

This is my Father’s world
The birds their carols raise
The morning light the, lilliy white
Declare their Maker’s praise

This is my Father’s world
He shines in all that’s fare
In rustling grass I hear him pass
He speaks to me everywhere

This is my Father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings and round me rings
The music of the sphere

(Maltbie D. Babcock, 1901)

Creational Astigmatism

Sometimes I read the news online and wonder how much more the world can take from us. By us I mean both humans in general and Evangelical/Restorationist Christians in particular.

I am not negative by nature (I have a Farside type of humor though!), but Human Beings can be incredibly narcissistic. This seems to be at the root of the “original sin.” The world, we tend to think, revolves around us. This flaw in human thinking can be found among us the Evangelical/Restorationist Christians (I am one btw). Humans have a tendency to destroy everything we touch. We think that the only purpose things exist for in this world is to serve us. Most have a Darwinian, Mammon driven, utilitarian ethic.

Other humans exists for our benefit. If he/she does not benefit me then they are worthless in our sight. If a bird, turtle, whale, butterfly, tree or flower is in the way of our comfort and gratification then they are worthless as well.

Evangelical/Restorationists often put a supposed biblical spin on this utlitarian ethic that consumes our world.

This world is not my home,
I’m just passing through

We sing. This world of seven seas and seven continents and all that lies within them has no Spiritual value. So we treat the world like we accuse the rest of the human race of treating each other. We ourselves are to be rescued from this world, this creational existence! Few realize this is Platonic view of “spirituality” that is quite unbiblical. It is, in fact, quite Gnostic, not historic Christianity. There are reasons for our predicament in Evangelical/Restorationist churches.

I had a supposed Bible believing Christian tell me, “I do not care how many women lead, spoke, prophesied. The Old Testament has been nailed to the cross and we are under a better covenant. They are to be in subjection and not usurp men.”

I quote that not to discuss the “role of women” at the moment but to illustrate how little the Hebrew Bible theologically impacts Christian thinking and living. If the Hebrew Bible has ZERO (probably even less) theological influence on this person’s understanding of how another human is treated (women are equal divine image bearers) then it sure will not when it comes to God’s good creation beyond human beings. These two things – humans and the world – are intimately connected in the Hebrew Bible … and but no less in the New Testament.

For Evangelical/Restorationists “sin” is often defined in interesting ways.

No cleavage.
No mini-skirts.
No swimming.
No beer.
No wine.
No rock.
No gay people.
No dancing.

Sin is rarely evaluated in social terms that promote justice and mercy. Faithfulness to God is rarely understood in terms of expending love on what cannot return it (or think it cannot).

Henderson Island three thousand miles from any land mass is one of the most polluted spots on earth.

Servant Kings, Salvation

But humans were created, literally, to be God’s vice regents within the created order. They were created to reflect God’s own intimate love and care for creation back into creation. They were created to be the caretakers of God’s personal property. Humans are kings and queens indeed, but as in ancient Israel, David sat upon the throne only as God’s under king. Humans are created to be servant Kings and Queens on behalf of creation (C. S. Lewis grasped this point with clarity, think Chronicles of Narnia). There is a gracious, symbiotic, relationship between divine image bearers and the non-human created order by divine intent.

Sin, according to the Bible, drastically impacts our world, God’s good creation. The “lack of knowledge of God” according to the Bible is not simply revealed in dancing and bikinis but in how the creation that God loves, suffers. One text from Hosea,

Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:

There is no faithfulness, no love [Hesed],
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away
(Hosea 4.1-4)

Failure to acknowledge God (i.e. know God in older versions) does not result in only breaking the “Ten Commandments.” Failure to acknowledge God results in the vandalism of God’s good creation. The land drying up, the death of beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.

The world DIES because HUMANS do not know God. Think about what is happening to our world even as we live in 2023. The world suffers because humans have forgotten the role we play within God’s created order. We have adopted a “survival of the fittest” ethic while decrying Darwinian evolution loudly.

God’s created order dies when humans fail to be what God created them to be. People treat other humans in the same way they do animals, birds, fish … as objects that exist to serve me.

So Brazil has declared war on the Amazon rain forest and is decimating it. Henderson Island, uninhabited by humans and three thousand miles from the nearest land mass, in the middle of the Pacific looks like a city dump because all the garbage that washes up on its shore. Surely Hosea 4 is apropos!

Meanwhile, Christians openly mock any kind of environmental concern. Tree huggars. Environmental Taliban. Whackos. No such thing as climate change. “And Who cares, God is just going to burn it up! If you think it is hot now, just wait!

This is simply the Evangelical/Restorationist version of utlitarianism, a Darwinian social ethic. The ethic is the exact same only the veneer is different. It is rooted in completely unbiblical theology.

But Yahweh promises the covenant people God will save them because God has promised the animals! Oh, we ignore this or do not know it or we declare it to be “figurative.” Or, who cares that is the “Old Testament!” But does not the theology of Hosea reflect God’s own theology? Yahweh speaks through the same prophet Hosea,

““In that day,” declares the Lord,

you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.

In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.

Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge
the Lord.

In that day I will respond,”
declares the LORD—

I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;
and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and the olive oil”

(Hosea 2.16-22)

Salvation for God’s people is guaranteed to them because Yahweh “enters a covenant with the animals.” Here God promises the animals the freedom from suffering and death that they experience because Israel (God’s People!) have no clue who God is or what makes God tick. Life will flow from the land because salvation heals the WHOLE world.

But for any intelligent Christian, the greatest compliment God could ever give to the mud and dirt of planet Earth was when God used that very mud and dirt the flesh for the Word of God – Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation is the God given proof that “God so loved the WORLD ...”

A Bible wide study of creation, why God created it; What does God intend to do with it. Creation and Redemption tie the entire canon together from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. I invite you to read Embracing Creation.

The Word was Incarnate in Flesh.
The Word’s Flesh was denied “decay” By God.
The Word was Raised from the dead in the FLESH.
The Word returned to the Father in the FLESH.
The Word will return in the FLESH.

That Flesh, made from the mud and dirt. That Flesh is, present tense, made up of soil God made a promise (covenant) to in Hosea. This world actually belongs to Jesus the King/Messiah. It was created “by him” and “for him” (Col 1.16). God will destroy those “who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11.18).

I am far from a perfect human being (thank you God for grace!). My understanding of God’s word is far from infallible. But it seems to me that if I know who God is then that will transform my behavior towards other human beings and all that God has made. I will love my neighbor as if they are the Lord himself and I will dote over even Leviathan who was created, not for us, but just so God could watch this magnificent creature play in the deep (Read Psalm 104 and Romans 8!). The creation was not made for me. I was created to be God’s servant King within that glorious creation that is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

There are many aspects of creation that do not focus upon human (again meditate upon Psalm 104 a long time). We need to restore the biblical doctrine of creation which is foundational to the biblical doctrine of redemption/salvation. With it we regain understanding of who we are and what we as humans are called and created to be. My cohorts and I have written more on this core biblical truth in Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission.

This is my Father’s world …” He loves it.

Further Reading In Links

Psalm 104: For God So Loves the World

Do Not Fear, O Earth, Animals, People: Hope of Cosmic Redemption in Joel’s Liturgy

(I wrote this on July 25 and placed it on Facebook. I have been asked to make it available in a more permanent way. So I post it here on my blog unchanged. I have added the photos. I believe in “free speech” even for those I disagree with that includes Jason Aldean. What follows is, to the best of my ability, an engagement from a kingdom of God perspective with a song. I am a proud Southerner. See my blog, “Southern Heritage to Be Proud Of …)

Some people I love dearly will not like this blog. I grew up in a small town. Cloverdale and St. Florian outside of Florence, Alabama. I confess, just a few days ago, I never heard of Jason Aldean. I’m not a Country music fan and probably never will be. Johnny Cash is about as Country as I can get. But I was asked a couple days ago about Aldean’s song, “Try That in a Small Town.”

I was not going to comment on this song. But I have since been literally flooded with “I stand with Jason Aldean” memes; memes thanking God for Jason Aldean; etc on Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. So, I have investigated. I went to YouTube and watched it a few times. I printed out the lyrics so I could make sure I was getting it all.

The song in some ways pulls the old heart strings.

Sucker punch somebody on the sidewalk;
Carjack an old lady at the red light;
Pull a gun on the owner of the liquor store;
Ya think its cool, well act like a fool if ya like.

I’m like, Yeah, I hate that!

It continues,

Well, try that in a small town;
See how far ya make it down the road;
Around here we take care of our own;
You cross that line,
it won’t take long for you to find out,
I recommend you don’t try that in a small town

The song next mentions the gun “granddad” gave and the “good ole boys raised right.” I watched the video a few times. Read the lyrics several times.

Apart from the opening lyrics, that do express things I detest, the song as a whole, I found misguided at best and plainly ignorant at worst. Now, Jason Aldean will not be the first artist to write and perform a song with questionable moral values. [edit: Aldean did not write the lyrics but he has claimed them as representing his beliefs]. At the bare minimum it is extremely difficult to deny the lyrics are talking about vigilante violence performed by “good ole boys” who are envisioned as the protectors of the “small town.”

I want to reflect on the message in those lyrics, taking care of our own, seeing how far you make it down the road, and the good ole boys raised right.

What IMAGES come into my head when I hear and read those lyrics? Well, the video itself provided something of a interpretive grid for them. Unless Jason Aldean is a complete idiot, or his producers are, the choice of venue for that video WITH THOSE LYRICS is telling indeed.

The video is shot in Columbia, TN. In fact the Maury County Courthouse seems to be the center of gravity in the video. I’ve been all over Columbia. I’ve even stood at that Courthouse. Columbia is a small town. It used to be even smaller.

Three Hundred and Fifty “good ole boys” lynched 18 year old Henry Choate at the Columbia Court House in the small town of Columbia, TN

But at THAT Courthouse when hundreds of “good ole boys” with their guns that “granddad” gave them made sure a line was not crossed when they publicly lynched 18 year old Henry Choate. All those scenes of violence pictured in the video already took place IN COLUMBIA as literally hundreds of white folks seized this 18 year old kid, chained him to a car and dragged him through the streets. Then came to the courthouse and hung him from that very building with the flag behind Aldean in the video.

Now I confess, again, either Aldean is an idiot or this was a “message” that was not and is not so subtle. I say they did it in a small town. And they did it a lot.

Emmett Till, TODAY would be Till’s birthday. At 14 he was lynched by the “good ole boys” in a small town, Drew, MS. He would have been 82.

5,000 small “sundown towns” in the USA which this song clearly evokes

– the KKK‘s reign of terror ruled the small town

Colfax, LA small town obliterated by white mobs killing over 100 people of color

Rosewood, Fl small town wiped off the map

Mary Turner, eight months pregnant, lynched, shot a hundred times, body doused with gasoline and burned in Lowndes County, GA by the “good ole boys raised right.”

Greenwood, small neighborhood by Tulsa blown off the map in 1921 with hundreds killed by white mobs

Oxford, MS all hell broke loose when James Meredith tried to attend the University of Mississippi

Grenada, MS 1967/68 middle school children beaten with bats, chains, bricks by white mobs as they attempt to go to school

El Dorado, Ark people of color slaughtered in 1896 and again 1910

Elaine, Ark, 1919, several hundred black sharecroppers slaughtered for days (Sept 30-Oct 2) for attempting to for a union for improved wages

– Longview, TX; Vicksburg, MS; Lake City, FL; E. St. Louis; etc

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. IT ALREADY DID HAPPEN IN A SMALL TOWN. White Supremacy ruled the day in each of these small towns.

I have to ask both Aldean and his producers, why was that site chosen as the location of the video? If they did not know, then again they are ignorant in the extreme. I knew the story of 18 year old Henry Choate long before I heard of Aldean. Someone, Somewhere in the Aldean organization had to know. Does that venue interpret the lyric “Around here we take care of our own; You cross that line, it won’t take long for you to find out.”

Maybe you have never heard of Henry Choate or Sundown Small towns. Maybe you never heard of the litany of riots (dozens more can be listed). But ignorance is not bliss. It is just ignorance.

But I have to be honest. What bothers me as much as Aldean’s ignorance (and given his love for the Confederate battle flag and wearing black face, I cannot say he did this in full ignorance) is that THIS song has instantly become like an anthem for many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. This song is where the stand is to be made. Only white ones however.

But there is nothing Christian about the song. It is difficult to reconcile anything Jesus ever said about loving (even enemies) with good ole boys chasing people down with granddad’s gun. Christians need to read the Sermon on the Mount more often.

Again, I hate old ladies getting carjacked.

I despise sucker punches on the sidewalk.

But if you claim to be anti-crime then be pro-justice. Be pro-righteousness. This song promotes a vision of Sundown Town “justice” that already was practiced in a small town in the exact spot Aldean sings.

You claim you “ain’t racist,” then don’t make a song that is literally performed on the exact spot where an 18 year old black kid was violently lynched by a mob of hundreds of white people (“good ole boys”) in small town USA your anthem. Jason Aldean will never see your meme of support but every black person you claim to love and not be bigoted toward DOES see it. What message are you sending to them?

If you want an anthem then I suggest Bob Marley One Love or Buffalo Soldiers. If you want an anthem then I suggest U2’s In the Name of Love. If you are daring then Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of. If you want an anthem then I suggest Don Moen’s Instruments of Peace.

Let me say, there are lots of questionable songs. I confess there are dozens of questionable songs on my play list. Questionable on many levels. Van Halen’s Running with the Devil comes on and I crank it up. But don’t make it my anthem and say Van Halen is standing up for me. I hope this makes sense.

God is on the side of the oppressed beloved. If you even halfway believe the Bible then you have to believe that.

Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed

(Isaiah 1.16-17)

With Much Love and for Shalom.

Regularly, I get asked why I read the Psalms every day, every week, every month. And why I stress it for others. The reasons are legion. The Psalms are themselves prayer and worship so I am pulled into communion with the saints, that great cloud of witnesses, in the Psalms. But the Psalms help us see the big picture and what the entire Bible is “about.” It is a whole Bible in miniature. The great Reformer, Martin Luther, put it like this.

[The Psalter] “might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible … Anyone who could not read the whole Bible would here have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book … The Psalter ought to be a precious and beloved book.”

– Martin Luther, Preface to the Psalter, in Luther Works, volume 35, p. 254

What Martin Luther so wisely discerns here is accurate. In the ancient world of Israel and most of the Christian centuries leading up to Luther, no one owned a “Bible.” And the vast majority could not read.

The Psalms, however, were encountered in public communal worship and deeply embedded into Israel’s festivals. The Psalms sung (enmeshed with the festivals especially) taught the basic gist, the message, of the “Bible.” The Psalms quite literally help us understand the entire Bible and the central themes of the Bible. The basic gist of the biblical teaching on


– King/Messiah

– Divine Presence (i.e. Spirit)

– Creation

– Kingdom

– Worship

– Hesed (grace/mercy/steadfast love)

– Faith

The Psalms keep the “main thing” the Main Thing! Thus they can keep us focused on what matters rather than splintering on minutia.

Over the years of reading and praying the Psalms, I have discovered that the Psalms frame not only most of the Hebrew Bible but the “New Testament” as well. Psalms will CHANGE how we read Jesus and “church.” The Psalter is essential to a Christian Spirituality and worldview.

Is it any wonder that Rabbi Paul would tell former pagans, new minted citizens of Israel, to immerse themselves in the Book of Psalms (Ephesians 5.19-20). There was no Bible for Paul to hand out to the Ephesians, so he pointed them to “the Little Bible.” Paul’s own letters to new citizens of Israel are all baptized into the Psalter (to use a metaphor that is more literal than we imagine).

The more we know the Book of Psalms the more we will know and understand the Bible as a whole.

Reading the Psalms daily is a Spiritual discipline. Like taking vitamins and walking. Resist the urge to read snippets of Psalms. Read the entire Psalm. In fact read the Book of Psalms like all other books, from beginning to end, each psalm sequentially. Five Psalms a day, except Psalm 119 counts as five, allows you to read the entire book every month. This is called lectio continua. You stick with it and you will be amazed at what the Holy Spirit does in you, how the whole Bible and even Christianity itself takes on new and deep layers of meaning.

Tolle lege.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (NRSV).

Romans 8 is one of those places in Scripture that if we “get” it, then we “get” the message of the entire biblical Story. Others places with similar impact include the block of Psalms from Pss 103 to 107. But in this glorious passage, Rabbi Paul is literally living, breathing and thinking within the Jewish world of the Hebrew Scriptures. Especially important are the story of the Exodus and the world of the Psalms (which themselves are shaped by the Exodus). It is Story imprinted on the emotional and psychological DNA of every Israelite in the first century. Imprinted is the right word.

In the Exodus Story, God’s Holy Spirit led the children of God out of death (Egypt), through the Water (Red Sea), to the mountain (Sinai/received Torah), united with God in intimate dwelling fellowship (glory dwelling in Tabernacle), and on to the Promised Land (an Eden Redux).

But they fell after salvation in the Exodus. The Golden Calf is the “Tree” all over again.

When we turn to read Romans 7.7-25, a passage filled with echoes of Psalm laments, after a month reading Psalm 119 numerous bells go off. Like the “I” of Romans 7 (which I believe is Israel, not Paul or some other individual, personified) the Psalmist “loves” God’s law. Psalm 119 is often called a “wisdom” psalm but it can easily be a lament. It is some one (Israel) who loves God, who loves God’s word/torah but has “gone astray” like a “lost sheep” who needs Yahweh to rescue and save him/her. There is a Quest for Intimacy, for connection, in Psalm 119. The Psalms is dominated by pleas for insight, understanding, and even divine empowerment.

I treasure your word in my heart … teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.11, 12)

teach me your statutes, make me understand the way of your precepts” (119.26)

Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law” (Ps 119.29)

Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Ps 119.34)

Direct me in the paths of your commands, for there I find delight” (Ps 119.35)

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain” (Ps 119.36)

The earth, O LORD, is full of your HESED, teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.64, see v.65, 73, etc)

Your statutes are forever right: give me understanding that I may live” (Ps 119. 144)

open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things in your torah” (Ps 119.18)

I am YOURS; SAVE ME” (Ps 119.94; cf. v.76-77, etc)

Perhaps we could say that Psalm 119 is saying, “So the law is HOLY, and the commandment is HOLY and JUST and GOOD … we know the law is SPIRITUAL, but I am of the SARX … I delight in the law of God in my inmost self (Rom 7.12,14, 22). There is, at least, a connection between Romans 7 and Psalm 119 on the level of yearning (I suspect a whole lot more).

Somehow the People of God inevitably share in the fallen condition of the world. Romans 7 is not the personal experience of Paul nor does Paul ever (anywhere) claim that he or any other Jew felt the Torah was a burden and a misery (cf. Philippians 3.4b-6). Psalm 119 testifies to both the “delight” in God’s law, going astray, and needing divine salvation and begging for intimate connection with Yahweh, all at the same time. This is very much like what we have in Romans 7 and 8. (See my article, Unbearable Burden? Did Jews (Paul) Believe the Torah was a Burden?).

What Rabbi Paul is doing is voicing the Story in the Hebrew Bible, the Story as told in the Psalms – that story confesses that God’s People as a whole have failed. And it confesses this repeatedly. They failed at the very moment of glorious redemption by Hesed alone: the Golden Calf literally on Mt. Sinai and they have been failing ever since. Just as all humanity has failed from the moment of the tree in the Garden of Eden (a careful reading of Psalm 106 helps here. “They exchanged their glorious God for an image of a bull, which eats“).

The Wilderness experience of Israel is paradigmatic for the people of God in the Hebrew Story and it continues to be so for Renewed Israel. The church is Israel. Church has not replaced Israel but is Israel made new. We have left Egypt (sin/death). But we have not arrived in the Promised Land. We have redemption but we hope for the land (dwelling with God). We have God’s dwelling presence/Spirit as a guarantee (first fruits) that we are God’s Children while we live in hope, the realization of our salvation.

Renewed Israel has not arrived. We find ourselves in the “wilderness.” Sometimes we feel like we have no “endurance” left at all. We feel like the voice of Psalm 119:

O Lord how I love your law/I have gone astray like a LOST SHEEP.”

We are lost in the Sinai desert! Will the journey EVER END? Will we ever be faithful to both God’s law and what we desire in our inner being?

But the Good News of Romans 8.26-27 is several fold.

First. Even as we, like Israel in chapter 7, continue to struggle with the fact that our Sarx makes war on us we are still the People of God because of King Jesus. Even in “weaknesses” or “powerlessness” we are not lost. We are not lost precisely because God’s Spirit lives with us in the wilderness. We are, not will be, God’s People because of the King of Israel, the Son of David. This King has rescued (already) Adam, Israel, and in chapter 8 we see, Creation itself. All in an “exodus” from sin, death, curse and groaning.

Second. Even as the Spirit guides us through the wilderness toward the Promised Land (the renewal of all God’s creation), God’s gracious Spirit personally aids in our powerlessness. When the patient endurance (v.25) gives out it, is the Spirit of Life who rushes to our aid. Our “status” as God’s People is “sealed” by the Spirit himself. Knowing our relationship does not cave because we fail is sheer liberation.

Third. Sometimes our exhaustion and even fear in the Wilderness overpowers us. So much so, Paul says we do not know what we should pray about. Now Paul is not saying God’s people do not know the manner of how to pray. The Bible is loaded with prayers (and we should pray them). The Psalms. Paul’s letters themselves not only contain prayers but exhortations to pray. And Jesus gave us a prayer that we should pray.

Yet when the groaning even groans that are “inexpressible” it is God’s Spirit who Personally takes these groanings and translates them into the holy incense of prayer. The “inexpressible groaning” is our lament (same groaning as creation btw!). God’s Spirit of Love and Life molds them and shapes them into God’s own will. The Spirit prays in and through us out of intimate knowledge of who we are. The grace is mind-blowing.

Fourth. Even in the Wilderness, before we arrive to our destination, Paul says we are bound by the most intimate even shocking communion with God. The Holy Spirit brings together a mutual indwelling that is making us one with God, in communion with God. The Spirit knows us in ways we do not know ourselves because the Spirit dwells in us. The Spirit knows the mind of God because the Spirit “dwells” in God. This Spirit dwells in us binding us together. As the Jerusalem Bible puts it,

God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.

Romans 8.26-27 is life between the times. We have left Egypt but we have not arrived. The King has come. The King suffered, died and was in fact raised bodily. And we too have followed his Exodus patterned life when we go through the water. And we have experienced resurrection as a promised guarantee – the Spirit of Life who gave life to Adam, and life to Son of David in the tomb guarantees that we will share in that life along with all God’s creation.

In the meantime, the Spirit of Life makes us God’s People, guides us to the Promised Land, gives us “power” in the face of powerlessness, and binds us in such an intimate fashion we might even say we have become “one.” A oneness through the Indwelling Holy Spirit that is far deeper than even the greatest husband/wife marriage we can imagine. Such is the beautiful binding of prayer in the Spirit we have even in the Wilderness.

If you have read this I am grateful. But I pray you are blessed. The Spirit of Life in King Jesus has set us free and we are free and we are redeemed and we are God’s even as we are powerless, as we fail, as we groan, as we wait with very little endurance for the “glory” to be revealed in us … Creation awaits.