Paul’s Psalm 44

February 2, 2010

Reading through Romans 8 the other day I noticed that Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 in the middle of his argument:

 8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 8:36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 8:37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul in this chapter has been discussing our relationship with God, through Christ, and the inability, now as sons of God, to be separated from God. We now call out, “Abba!” and are kept in this relationship. In this relationship then Paul asks if anything out there can possibly separate us from God, whether “trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (v.35) and then Paul quotes the psalm. So let us take a little look at the psalm that Paul quotes.

Psalm 44, the psalm quoted in Romans, begins with the psalmist recounting God’s provision and watching over the people of Israel: “You, by your power, defeated nations and settled our fathers on their land; you crushed the people living there and enabled our ancestors to occupy it.” But then at verse 9 the psalm switches the mood: “But you rejected and embarrassed us! You did not go into battle with our armies,” and we see God’s hand turning away from the people of Israel. In the midst of the psalmists lament of God’s handing over of the Israelites we get the verse Paul quotes: “Yet because of you we are killed all day long; we are treated like sheep at the slaughtering block” (Psalm 44:22). As the psalmist discusses distress, persecution, danger, and swords he points out that he and his people are like sheep being slaughtered. From this persecution the psalmist calls God to rouse himself, to protect his people.

Paul then seems to make this connection now that because Christ has come, because we are now drawn into relationship with the Father, unlike the psalmist we now no longer fear the sword, the danger, the persecution, the distress. Paul takes the psalmist’s lament and turns it around, showing that the one the psalmist had been waiting for, the salvation from his enemies has now come and that no enemy, or sword, or persecution can separate us from God. Paul is building his argument from the OT and showing that what they had been waiting for has now come, and nothing can separate us from God’s salvation. We no longer wait, for we have now seen God rouse from his sleep and “rescue us because of [his] loyal love!” (Ps. 44:26)

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Rethinking Romans 12:1

June 30, 2008

Just this last week I heard a message on Romans 12:1 that has me re-approaching the passage. As it is typically taught (or at least as I have heard it typically taught), the teacher told us about being a living sacrifice and how living sacrifices tend to get off of the altar.  He went on to tell us about the fact that because of all that precedes (Romans 1-11) we are to now present our bodies as living sacrifices in a way that is holy and pleasing to God.

As the teacher was laying out his reading of the passage, I couldn’t help but notice the NET’s variant reading of Romans 12:1.  Here is how the NET Bible reads:

Therefore I exhort you brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice–alive, holy and pleasing to God–which is your reasonable service.

For me, the reordering of the descriptors “alive, holy and pleasing to God” opened up a door.  Could it be that Paul, in line with his own “therefore”, is exhorting his brothers and sisters to present their bodies as a sacrifice–alive holy and pleasing to God IN JESUS?  The difference, if it is there, is both subtle and momentous.  On the one hand Paul is instructing his readers how to be a sacrifice.  On the other hand, Paul is urging those who are already alive, holy and pleasing to God in Jesus, to now cast themselves back on the altar to God.

Having the door thus opened, I have since read through Romans to see how Paul prepares the reader for 12:1.  How has he framed the ideas of human holiness, life and relationship to God?  Here is a quick summary of what I’ve noted:

“Present your bodies…alive

Transgression, initially through Adam, brings death (4:25; 5:17-21) and the Spirit (8:2) in Jesus (5:17-21; 11:18) through faith gives life (4:17, 25) as a gift (1:17; 6:23) through our identification with him in death, burial and resurrection (6:4-13) and continual life in the Spirit (8:13)

Key passages:5:17-21; 6:12-13

“Present your bodies…holy

Left to ourselves, and in Adam (5:17-21), all of humanity is caught in sin (ch. 1:21ff; 3:9-18, 23).  Though righteousness is described in the law (2:13; 10:5) no one is declared righteous under the law (3:20; 9:31-32); only in Christ (5:1) is righteousness granted to people (3:21-24) through faith (4:5-9; 5:1; 9:30, 32; 10:10).

“Present your bodies…fully pleasing”

In sin (see above) all are under God’s judgment (2:3) and are therefore opposed to him (5:10).  Through Jesus however, we not only have a means to righteousness (see above), but also to peace with God (5:1; 8:6), reconciliation (5:10-11; 11:15), the removal of condemnation (8:1; 15:29; 16:10), adoption as sons and daughters (9:8) and the acceptance of God (14:3-4; 15:7, 16).  Only in right relationship with God through the work of Jesus are we pleasing to God (8:8-10.

Conclusion:

Over and over again through Romans Paul seems to be showing the life, holiness and acceptableness of those who are in Christ.  Romans 12:1 then both recaps–“therefore” “in view (i.e. all that has been said) of the mercies of God” and “alive, holy and fully pleasing to God”–what he has argued and exhorts response–“present your bodies as a sacrifice”.

What difference does it make?  It means that our response is to done as living, holy and pleasing people, not to obtain life or holiness or God’s pleasure.  Because we already have these things in Christ our sacrifice is better than it could ever otherwise be and it points all the more to the greatness of Christ who’s work has been so great in our lives!

Amen!