Thursday: Psalms 49-50 & Romans 7.7-12

From Jonathan Bailes

Psalm 49: “From the very beginning of our existence in this dying body,” writes St. Augustine, “there is never a moment when death is not at work in us.  For throughout the whole span of this life—if, indeed, it is to be called life—its mutability leads us toward death…the whole duration of our life is nothing but a progression towards death.” This statement might sound rather morbid, but it is also true, and in Psalm 49 it is this same insight that gives proper perspective to our life and possessions.  No one can escape death’s clutches: “Even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish.” And this alters the importance of status and wealth, for no amount of money can ward off this fate and, when the rich man dies, he can take none of his wealth with him to the grave (v 17).  Even so, there is hope.  The psalmist cannot buy his own immorality, but he can and he does trust that God will ransom his soul from death (v 15). 

Psalm 50: This is the first psalm in the psalter to be attributed to Asaph, one of David’s musicians, and like psalms 81 and 95, it is meant to serve as a covenant renewal liturgy.  After identifying himself in majestic terms (vv. 1-4), God calls Israel together (v 5) in order to reprimand them for failing to uphold the covenant he made with them.  God warns his people that continued disregard of the covenant will result in judgment and he reminds them that true sacrifice consists not in their material gifts of animals on the altar, but in a life of thanksgiving and obedience (vv. 14-23).  This is the proper response to God’s gracious redemption of them.  In the words of Karl Barth, “The only answer to charis [grace] is eucharistia[thanksgiving].”

Romans 7.7-12: In the verse preceding this passage, Paul spoke of being “released from the law” that had held him captive.  Now, he answers an apparent implication of this claim.  If the law held us in bondage when “sinful passions” were controlling us, is the law sin? Did God, who gave the law, give us something evil?  Paul’s answer is a firm “No.” Sin is the true culprit.  The law says “Thou shall not covet,” but our covetous desire (what Augustine calledconcupiscentia) hears this and does precisely the opposite.  Speaking as everyman, Paul claims that sin “deceived him” by inspiring him to desire the very thing that was forbidden of him, much like the serpent deceived Eve into seeing the forbidden fruit as “a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6).  But this does not change the goodness of the law.  The law is “holy and righteous and good” and it is a gift from God, because it allows us to see our covetous desires with a clarity that we hadn’t before.  For Paul, the law teaches us what Augustine knew well: death is at work in us.  But this is not the last word.  Read to the end of chapter seven.  With Paul we might ask, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But with Paul we can also respond, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”