Psalm 36: A Story of Three Brothers

Psalm 36: A Personal Translation
REBELLION utters, like a prophet, to the wickedness in the secret places of my heart. There is no fear of God in front of his eyes. For REBELLION flatters himself in his own eyes finding his CROOKEDNESS not hated. The words of his uttering are CROOKED and treachery. He does not act insightfully towards goodness. He plots CROOKEDNESS upon his bed and he stands upon a path that is not good. He does not reject evil.
Oh Lord! Your COVENENTAL SUBSTANCE is in the heavens! Your faithfulness extends into the clouds. Your righteousness is like the high places. Your judgments are like a great deep. Man and animal alike, the Lord saves from REBELLION.
What COVENENTAL SUBSTANCE, God! That sons of man, that we, take refuge in the shadow of your Law. We are saturated from the fat given in sacrifice in your house. And from a stream of Eden you allow us to drink. For with you is a spring of life. In your light, we will see light.
Your COVENENTAL SUBSTANCE pulls the ones who know toward you. And your righteousness pulls our hearts to standing heart. Do not let a foot of pride come to me. And do not let the hand of wickedness lead me to wander! There, the makers of Crookedness are fallen. They have been laid down and have not been able to stand.

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I would love to introduce you to two obscure characters within the Old Testament. These abstract characters do not have names and you won’t see them pictured in a children’s Bible. However, they are present nonetheless. In fact, they are in almost every biblical narrative.  And much like the cartoons that display an angel on one shoulder with a devil on the other, so too do these entities exist; only they do not reside on our shoulders.  I will call our hero, Chesed (חסד). And the villain, I will call Pesha (פשע).

Now this villain, this Pesha, cannot fully be understood by himself because he is intimately linked with his two brothers. One younger, and one older. And this brotherhood is known as sin. The first brother is named Chata (חטא), but here, I will call him Offense. We encounter Offense all over the Old Testament. Offense is the most basic understanding of sin: this brother demonstrates that something is not right between God and man, or between man and man. And this disordered relationships is known as Offense. Offense was present when the Isrealites circled around a golden calf, and so, the Levitical Law was born to combat against it.

When you miss the mark, when you blunder about with this brother known as Offense, a goat should be killed or a bull slaughtered. This allows man to enter into life with God once again. Offense comes out within us very easily. When we make a mistake Offense is found among us. Of the three brothers, Offense is blind, bumbling, and naive. He makes choices without realizing the childish repercussions that will take place. He acts purely to sooth the impulses that strike him. And when we invite Offense into our lives, God forgives us – for we know not what we do. Goats and bulls can be killed. Lifeblood can pay for Lifeblood. Offense, may not be reserved, but it can be rectified. And so God forgives the actions of this brother.

The oldest of the three brothers is named Aven (עבן), but I will call him Crookedness. And Crookedness is a bit more secretive about the sin be brings. Crookedness is twisted, rooted in a polluted soil, a soil that smells vile. Crookedness is a bent fellow. He is hunched. He is tainted. Crookedness is not quite right, but he’s not quite wrong either. He is gnarled; fallen. Something off exists inside of him, but he never feels the need to correct himself for he has accepted his twisted way as reality.

Unlike Offense, Crookedness does not report to the Law because he has become part of the landscape of humanity. You find him mostly in the Psalms – and he is ascribed to both the good and wicked. In Jonah, he is ascribed to people of Ninevah. He is an off coloring of the truth. He masquerades behind humanity so easily that humans rarely ever recognize his existence. He is tied to a piece of fruit that was forbidden in a garden. Maybe, he is best-described original sin. Lifeblood pays for Lifeblood with him – for he often gives his kid brother, Offense, his battle plans.

But the middle brother, and our villain of the story, is named Pesha (פשע). But we will call him Rebellion: willful human rebellion.  And he is the most terrible of the three brothers. For he hates God’s created order. Rebellion is not found when humans make a mistake like Offense is.  Nor did he originate from a fruit that humans corrupted like Crookedness. No, Rebellion comes from somewhere much more insidious. Rebellion comes from within our very selves – a rebellion born in the deepest most secret parts of our hearts as Psalm 36 expresses. Rebellion makes his darkest dwelling in us and tries to speak to us in the voice of the prophet –knowing that the humans will feed him. He knows that we love him – praise him. We love the wily things that Rebellion can give us.

We first find Rebellion when Jacob’s sons plot to kill their brother. You find Rebellion when they sell Joseph as a slave. Rebellion is found in Job when he complains to God of the problems in this world. King David himself boasts that he did not give into Rebellion when he had the chance to Kill Saul – but took a piece of his robe instead. In the Psalms, Rebellion is ascribed to unbelieving nations, and wicked people. And finally, the prophets mention Rebellion more than any other book because they knew that if people do not stop acting on behalf of Rebellion than God would spit them out.

There is no fix to Rebellion.

When  you read Leviticus, you realize that there is no sacrifice you can make to be forgiven for Rebellion. Instead, on the Day of Atonement once every year, the people wear sackcloth and don ashes for they are sorrowful for the Rebellion that they bring into the Temple every day. So the Priest goes into the Holy of Holies with a rope around his waist to intercede on the people’s behalf. And half the time, he will not come out alive, but be dragged out at the waist.

For Rebellion cannot be in the same room with the Divine – instead, it will die. Because was birthed outside of the God’s world. It was bred in our own Crookedness. And in Levitcal Law, lifeblood will not pay for lifeblood when Rebellion is at hand.

Have you ever heard Rebellion uttering in your ear? Have you heard him uttering, like a prophet, in your secret heart?

I have.

But I haven’t told you about the hero. I haven’t said a word yet about Chesed (הסד). For this brotherhood of sin has a sister. And she is very different than her brothers. She interacts with humanity just as her brothers do – but she is not born of human brokenness. Instead, she was born of God. Her very essence was drawn into human nature, yet she is not a part of it. You may know her as Faithfulness, Mercy, and Steadfast Love. But her true name is Chesed and she is untranslatable. But I will do my best. So here, I will called her Covenantal Substance. For she was birthed between Abraham and God.

Her first memory was the smell of burning animal flesh becasue she was born in between two halves of a bull as a the father of nation walked between a bull. She oozes the covenant wherever she goes. And since that day – she has been chasing after her people.

Covenantal Substance, the Steadfast Love of God, is a bridge between God and sin. We first see her when God saves Lot from Sodom. She appears again in the marriage of Issac and Rebekkah. Jacob himself confessed to God that he was not worthy of Covenantal Substance. This Substance is given to Joseph when he is in a prison cell in Egypt. And the Covenantal Substance is passed from Father to son for generations. She combats against Offense and she combats against Crookedness for she is the substance of sacrifice. She oozes out of the work of God. And she oozes out unto us.

Covenantal Substance comes again in the giving of the Law on Siani. Joshua swears allegiance to God through her. Yet she is strangely silent in Judges when the people did what was right in their own eyes – when they gave themselves other to the brotherhood of sin. But Covenantal Substance comes out ever more fully when King David takes the throne. She is linked to him. She clings to him, and he to her. For she was God’s gift to him. This Substance is never given to David’s enemies, for she is his to wield like a sword. She is associated with his reign and his house throughout the kingly histories. And when the kingdom crumbles, the prophets whisper her name sparingly – like it is an intimate caress from the past.

Covenantal Substance is most prominent in the Psalms – she is linked to the LORD more than any other word within those prayers. Covenantal Substance and Rebellion: these are two forces that constantly war with humanity. And humanity loves to interact with them. We give and receive both. We honor and disdain both. These two forces are prevalent in all our actions.

But what I don’t understand is how Psalm 36 could claim that Covenantal Substance can atone for Rebellion. Go, ahead. Re-read it. Scroll back to the top. How can this be? For this was never how the Law worked. Never. She can only atone for two of the brothers, but never the third.

So I am forced to look back to King David, to the man whom Covenantal Substance clung. And I am forced to re-examine his actions. For David did interact with Rebellion. There was a time he cast the beautiful sister away so he might flirt with the most dangerous of brothers.

When King David linked arms with Rebellion he summoned Bathsheba. And Covenantal Substance was rejected. When King David tried to cover up his crimes with the brotherhood he linked arms with Rebellion once again and committed murder while the Covenantal Substance wept. No goat could be killed for David’s actions. No bull could be slaughtered on an altar. For this is was not the work of Offense. Nor was it the work of Crookedness. This was born of Rebellion.

But the story of David’s actions with Rebellion did not end here. A precedence was set. For a son was born of Rebellion that day.  Bathsheba became pregnant. Yet Covenantal Substance was still with David, lying dormant. Maybe this innocent child, this child who was worth so much more than a goat and a bull could pay for David’s lifeblood. Maybe David’s own precious son could eradicate the Rebellion that lived inside of David.

If I was God, I would have killed David instead, for it was his Rebellion that could not exist in God’s created order. This was David’s fault – not the child’s. But psalm 36 tells us that Covenantal Substance will save us from our Rebellion. A goat will fail. A bull will not work.

But David’s son could atone.

I know that it is a price he did not want to pay. I know he lamented. But in this, he did not Rebel. He let God’s order reign, and it was a heaviness he bore the rest of his life.

So should every human have to offer their own child in order to counteract the Rebellion that they bring into God’s order? Is this how Covenantal Substance, the Steadfast Love of God works?

No, we Christians claim a different narrative. Covenantal Substance has always been linked to David and his house. This Substance clings to the house of David, and the House to the Covenant. And so God awakened the line of David 400 years later. And in this royal line, God gave his own son, a Messiah to follow the precedent that was already established in David.  So Covenantal Substance, Steadfast Love, put  Rebellion to death once and for all. A son, THE SON, was sacrificed.

Have you heard the voice of Rebellion utter in your ear?

So have I.

But I have hope, for I can now call upon Covenantal Substance. And as I said before, this Covenantal Substance is untranslateable. But if I could translate it, I would call her Jesus.

 

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