HEBREWS is a letter that was written like a sermon. No author’s name is given, though some have attributed it to Paul, others to the gifted orator Apollos (Acts 18:24), for its blend of Hebrew and Old Testament substance with Greek oratorical style. We don’t know the location of the audience, but it is obvious that they were Jewish Christians, some years or decades into their faith, when the initial signs and wonders that accompanied the entry of the Gospel into their lives was but a memory (2:4). Now their faith is flagging after years of enduring ostracism, persecution and shame for their faith. They are in danger of “neglecting such a great salvation” (2:3) and of “falling away from the living God” (3:12) like their ancestors in the Sinai wanderings. The author’s remedy is to exhort them to renewed faith and to courage and willingness to endure whatever grief and guff the world, especially their fellow Jews, might give them, for Christ’s honor. That requires a truer, clearer vision of Christ, of his divine nature and of his supreme glory, greater than that of angels, Moses, priests or prophets, something the author cycles back to throughout the first nine chapters. Hebrews has long served the church as a vital part of its understanding of the divine and human nature of Christ. While the church has often had to struggle with pagan and gnostic viewpoints that would make of Christ simply a guru or yogi of arcane knowledge, Hebrews roots Christ in the Hebrew Bible while elevating him above the prophets and law, showing him to be the superior fulfillment to all the Old Testament prayers promises, laws and rituals that were left unfulfilled.
PSALM 137 depicts the grief of Zion’s captives and their treatment at the hands of the Babylonian captors for any one of the three major deportations in the 6th or 7th Centuries BC. While the sentiment expressed in the last verse, “blessed are those who will dash your children against the stones,” is honest, shocking and disturbing, reading it with an emphasis on the word, “your” opens a window onto the terror and trauma the captives had just experienced. Such sentiment needed to be vented before the captives could have the kind of fruitful, positive impact on Babylon that many of them, like Daniel, would have. In some ways the curse was also a prediction: the Persian and other future invasions and occupations of Babylon included such terrors.
PSALM 138 is a hymn of praise with faith and confidence expressed for the blessings of God to his saints. A good practice would be to name them, count them and meditate upon them.
PSALM 139 conveys deep and profound thoughts about the intimate knowledge and love for ourselves that God has. This may be either comforting or frightening, depending upon whether or not we are like those whom Jesus says “love darkness rather than light, for their works are evil” (Jn 3:19). After such a sublime meditation, it is discordant to read the words of hatred, violence and imprecation against the wicked in verses 19-22. Its hard to see how one part leads to the other, unless it was the jarring experience of encountering evil, and seeing its (temporary) earthly rewards that led the psalmist to meditate upon the intimate knowledge of God and to affirm it in the first place. Even then, the closing prayer, beginning in verse 23, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts,” could lead one to be glad that the grace of God so often stays the wrath of God, beginning with ourselves.