PSALM 141 combines the elements of a wisdom Psalm (vv. 3-5a) with those of a lament over the artifices of the wicked, the corrupt oppressors who rule over the poor, the righteous and the pious, and who make life hard for them. The psalmist would gladly take the rebuke of the righteous, for the sake of correction. That is wisdom. But the punishments inflicted by the wicked are a matter for lament. The image of prayer ascending like incense (v. 2) connects Old Testament ritual with New Testament imagery, especially that of John’s Revelation (8:3-4).
PSALM 142, also a lament, continues the theme of grief and loneliness at being one of the poor and the few who follow YHWH God in the midst of corruption and injustice. The “prison” referred to in verse 7 may be that within the soul, that keeps the psalmist depressed, making it difficult to worship God. Or it may indicate that this was a psalm prayed by those who stood falsely accused and imprisoned, awaiting discernment and a verdict, again, a feature of life in a day when no police, courts or other civil structures represented the poor and exploited, only God.
PSALM 143 shows how universal and timeless are the experiences of grief, loneliness, confusion, even depression, whenever we compare the mighty works of God in the past with the very common apparent silence, the seeming absence, of God in the present. For the psalmist, the enemy (v.3) may be a godless or pagan oppressor, or an accuser in court. In the latter case, it may be that the verdict is to be rendered in the morning (v. 8) For us today, the enemy can be human or spiritual. For those nights when darkness and sleeplessness magnify our griefs and fears, this psalm could give us some hope and perspective.
I PETER opens a window onto the lives of Christians much like ourselves 20-plus centuries later. They too faced temptations, persecution and the dilemmas of dealing with non-believers, often in authority over themselves, such as masters over Christian slaves, or unbelieving husbands to Christian wives. Though Peter’s audience came from Gentile backgrounds, from the letter it is evident that he taught and considered them as adoptive Jews, through Christ. He presumed that they knew the Old Testament stories and passages he quoted extensively in this letter. They share Israel’s exile. Persecution is a key issue, particularly, that of Christian slaves. We have many martyr stories from that era and later of slaves whose faith was discovered and punished whenever they refused to participate in pagan rituals or the moral debauchery of their homes and masters. Its worth remembering that masters in the Roman Empire were considered to own both body and soul of their lowest slaves, and had near life and death mastery and liberty over them. Peter often uses the word “submission,” in his advice to wives, slaves and subjects of the empire. But this submission does not mean a carte blanche obedience. It means respect for persons and a willingness to suffer the consequences whenever submission to God differs from, and trumps, submission to spouses, masters or emperor.
The key example is Christ and his sufferings, and in in I Peter we encounter multiple layers of meaning to his cross and crucifixion. That he died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins is basic to western, classical, creedal Christian theology (3:18). He also suffered and died as a moral example of God’s way of doing good and fighting evil (2:21). And by his faithfulness through death he conquered evil and his enemies (3:22), what is often called the Christus Victor understanding of his atoning death.
“Arm yourselves” with this same willingness to suffer and even die for Christ, as a witness to him, and so to follow him in resurrection victory. Which is a surprising and poignant thing for Peter to say, because on the night that he failed so painfully and miserably to do just that, when Christ was arrested in the garden of Gethsemenae, he was armed, but with a sword. Now we are to be armed with an attitude and a willingness, an attitude of submission to God and a willingness to follow Christ in life, unarmed with the normal human weapons.
II PETER gives us a glimpse into even later developments in the lives of the new churches, when, in addition to persecution, there are apostasy, heresy and moral decay, including among some leaders and teachers. Toward the end of his life, Peter’s desire is to leave this warning, with these reminders: that faith is as much about conduct as it is about belief, that it even grows through right conduct (1:3-11); that their faith is based on the reliability of the scriptures and the apostolic witness (his and Paul’s-3: 15-16); that the conduct of Christians and teachers is a reliable indicator of the worth of their teachings; and that the end of all things, and a final accounting, is near. In light of the transiency of all things worldly, some godly fear should drive our actions and desires here and now.
As in II Timothy and Jude, powerful language and imagery is used to describe these false teachers, their teaching and their conduct, most of which draws from the Old Testament, some of which may come from Apocryphal sources.
Of special note is the addition or clarification that II Peter makes to the biblical apocalyptic vision, that is, how the current era of the world will end and give way to the next. Not through flooding, as in Noah’s day, but through fire. Not entirely a new, prophetic development in the apostolic age, it has roots in Old Testament imagery about The Day of the Lord (Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah). Again, then, Peter would have us attend to those things (“grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”) that will endure the coming transformation, in holy, reverent fear, despite all the distractions, temptations and obstacles in our way.