In the next section of Genesis (chapters 23-33), we see the covenant people of God laying claim to the promised land by peaceful means, by being born, living, dying, and being buried in the land, the first one being Sarah (23), and by erecting altars and giving names to places, according to how God revealed himself there. Thus emerges a very powerful and important biblical theme: the pilgrim people of God, in particular, God’s people sojourning through an alien world by faith in God’s promise. So shall “the meek shall inherit the earth.” In the New Testament era someone would write, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers (Gen. 23:4) on earth” (Heb. 11: 13).
This sojourning pilgrim people, unrecognized and overlooked as the heirs of the land, were unique among their neighbors in several ways, the most striking of which was the absence of visible, physical gods or idols among them, except for when Rachel ran off with her father, Laban’s, idols, (Gen. 31). She wasn’t the only one of God’s people to have a hard time laying hold of this monotheism thing. But God shows up in dreams, visions, and most importantly, an event: the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau.
“Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God,” (Gen. 33:10) Jacob told his estranged, injured and offended brother Esau. More than an exuberant expression of how good it is to see his long-lost brother again, the scripture is serving notice that this is where and how we will “see” God in life and in the Bible: in the miracle of reconciliation between enemies; in the love that interrupts and overcomes cycles of vengeance and violence; in the peace that makes two adversaries one. Israel’s prophets will promise as much for the whole world, and Jesus will begin the fulfillment of it on the cross, “for he himself is our peace, thus making the two [Jew and Gentile] one” (Ephesians 2: 14). God has an answer to what began with Cain and Abel.
PSALM 3: Lament and Affirmation of Faith
The third psalm is a prototype of the most common sort of biblical psalm, a lament, for an individual, rather than for a nation, or a king. Many of these laments end with an affirmation of faith in God, that God will come through for the individual as desired, and promised. To best understand these laments, consider a day and time before our familiar type of law and order and equality under law were known, when the only recourse of the common person in affliction, oppression, injustice or false accusation was to go directly to an all-seeing, justice-making God. Otherwise, kings, governors, officers and large land-holders could have their way with the vulnerable poor, the widows, the elderly and the orphans. These psalms of lament serve notice that: 1) all our sorrows, anger, grief and fear are safe material for honest prayer—God will not reject us for them: 2) that the God of the Bible is on the side of the oppressed and the vulnerable, against their oppressors and false accusers; 3) God will act, in this life or at some point in history, on behalf of the righteous poor and vulnerable. Jesus saw the script for his life in many of such psalms of lament (22, among others), and identified himself with “the righteous one” of the psalms of lament.
Again, note the names for God given in this psalm: v. 3 “a Shield for me, My Honor, and Lifter up of my head” (Young’s Literal Translation).”
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