Month: September 2013

Short is good (Psalm 117)


My son Noah is now taller than me.  I’m the 3rd tallest person in my family.  Shannon is the shortest and she’s  5′ 10″ (pretty tall for a woman).

So, I’m re-thinking shortness.  Short is the new tall, at least when it comes to Psalms.  On the Biblical Faculty blog, I recently reflected on the theme of shortness in the Bible, shortest person, shortest verse, shortest psalm.

Check it out: Short is good (Psalm 117).

No Mercy for Widows and Orphans?

Why doesn’t God have mercy on widows and orphans?  

That is why the Lord did not have pity on their young people,
or compassion on their orphans and widows;
for everyone was godless and an evildoer,
and every mouth spoke folly.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
his hand is stretched out still.
 (Isaiah 9:17 NRSV)

Widows and Orphans

I received an email recently from a friend who asked, “Why in Isaiah 9:17 does God not have compassion for widows and orphans?” Things were bad, but why pick on the widows and orphans. Here is how I responded: 

Yes, Isa. 9:17 is difficult in several aspects.  One of my favorite Isaiah commentaries basically skips over the issue on 9:17.  I can’t “solve” this problem, it is very troubling, but here are a few thoughts.

1)      First, the NRSV has a slightly more problematic take on that verse by repeating the lack of pity/compassion, based on a Dead Sea Scroll manuscript (Bibles will make a note about “Q” for Qumran) .  Other ET (ESV, NAS, NIV)  follow the Masoretic Hebrew Text and have God not taking pleasure in the 1st half, but still not having compassion in the next line.  The problem of a lack of compassion for widows/orphans doesn’t disappear, but it least it’s not repeated.  While I like the NRSV, and their choice to follow the DSS here makes sense for the sake of parallelism, it does make the text a little more difficult.

2)      As we elsewhere in Scripture, sin has corporate consequences.  Because David committed adultery (or rape?) the child that was conceived in Bathsheba after their sexual encounter was killed by God (2 Sam. 12).  The child who did nothing wrong was punished for his father’s sin.  God, who usually has compassion on widows and orphans doesn’t in this context because the wickedness of the people, particularly the evil leaders.  It doesn’t make sense to us in our Western Individualistic mindset.  Still troubling however…

3)      This is poetry, which needs to be read more loosely/figuratively, than prose narrative.  I’m not sure how that helps.  But we do see more examples of strong language, confusing imagery and hyperbole in poetic texts.  

4)      Elsewhere we see how God has special compassion on widows, orphans.  God even threatens that his anger (a big theme of Isa. 9) will strike out and kill his own people if they don’t have compassion on Widows and orphans (Exo. 22:2-23).  All of this tells us that God was pretty pissed off at his people in Isa. 9.

So, those are my thoughts.  I’m not really an Isaiah scholar, so I’m sure someone who is would have more insights on this tough text.

I did write an article on “Wrath” in the Dictionary of the OT Prophets (IVP 2012, for link click here), which doesn’t directly focus on Isa. 9:17, but goes into depth on patterns of divine wrath in the Prophetic Books.

Good Question.  Blessings to you and your ministry.

What would you have said about God’s lack of compassion?  

Image entitled, “Widows and Orphans” by Kathe Kollwetz, an early 20th-century German anti-war artist, from

Airplanes, Chemical Weapons, Nukes and Handguns

Everyone is in favor of limiting weapons at some level.  WMD, chemicals, nukes, handguns?  Because of what I read in the Bible, I’m in favor of going a bit further than most.  I think its bad to kill people however you do it.  I think Jesus would agree.

Swords into plowsharesPlanes were used by al Qaeda 12 years ago today to kill about 3 thousand.  Hopefully, never again.

Chemical weapons were used by Syria against its own people a few weeks ago to kill over a thousand.  Hopefully never again.

Two nuclear bombs were used  by the US sixty-eight years ago to kills hundreds of thousands.  Hopefully never again.

Guns have been used in the US to kill about 30,000 people every year including a three-year old at Yellowstone a few days ago.  Hopefully never again (yeah, right).

As a totally pro-life Christian, I will pray that the reasonable people and nations of the world would make it illegal to use WMD, sarin gas, nukes and yes, even guns.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:10; Micah 4:3).  

Wrath Satisfied or Love Magnified?

Recently the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided to drop the song “In Christ Alone” (written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty) from their hymnbook.

They had requested to make a change in the following line

on that cross,
as Jesus died,
the wrath of God was satisfied
replace the 3rd line withthe love of God was magnified

So, instead of wrath satisfied, there’s love magnified.  The authors refused to grant permission for the change, so the PCUSA dropped the hymn.  (I learned the song in the UK, so I have to sing “Wrath” with a British accent, long “a”.)

I’m interested, but torn.  I’ve attended PCUSA churches in N. CA (Menlo Park), W. Philly (Woodland) and S. CA (Glendale) for a combined 14 years (all of these churches are Evangelical).  I feel committed to the denomination (although I don’t currently a PCUSA church).

But I’ve invested heavily in the stock of divine wrath.  After writing God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the OT Angry, Sexist and Racist? I became the got to guy on the topic of divine wrath.  I wrote on “Wrath” for the IV Dictionary of the OT Prophets.

I gave several sermons on the topic of divine anger (based on ch. 2 of God Behaving Badly).

In a collection of essays entitled Holy War in the Bible I wrote the article “Wrath and Compassion as Motivations for Divine Warfare.”

Even my golf clubs say “WRATH” on them (see “The Wrath of Dave” on this topic).

To the attacks from some that this was a “liberal” attempt to remove the concept of wrath from their hymnal, the PCUSA responded that there’s still plenty of Divine Wrath in the 800 or so remaining hymns.  Here’s the PCUSA side of the story.

Wrath or love?  Both.  I believe that on the cross the love of God was magnified, and the wrath of God was satisfied.  But I wouldn’t change the song.  I like it as is.  Jesus prayed that the cup of wrath would be removed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36).  It was eventually removed, after satisfaction had taken place.

What do you think? Wrath or Love?  Would you change the song?  Leave the church?