9 Aug 2023


Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Holding On, Holy Spirit, Prayer, Psalms, Romans

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.

One Response to “HOLY SPIRIT PRAYS: THE EXODUS, PSALM 119 and Romans 8.26-27”

  1. Sharon Leighton Says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for a profoundly encouraging blog, at a time when I need it!

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