Today we are talking about kingdom – that is, the kingdom of God. Again, this is a topic that is usually connected with the New Testament, specifically Jesus’ proclamations that the kingdom of God is near, as well as many of his parables. I was thinking about this because of one of the things that we talked about last week in regards to Israel’s journey never being over.
Normally when we think of Kingdom of God in the Old Testament, we are inclined to think of the kingship of David. David’s kingdom is seen as the pinnacle of Israel’s earthly existence. It was marked by a time of peace and prosperity and was highlighted by the identification of the king, that is David, as a man after God’s own heart.
Now we saw earlier in our study of Deuteronomy that the king’s primary responsibility is to immerse himself in the word of the law. And we considered how the king, as somehow representative of the people, needs to keep his eyes fixed on God’s purposes, and not his own ambitions.
And David was a man who, for the most part, tried to keep his eyes on God and the nation prospered.
However, David’s kingdom didn’t last. We talked about this last week, but the journey didn’t end with the establishment of the nation under David. And quite simply, this is because David’s rule is not the kingdom to which Israel was truly journeying.
So our passage today is Psalm 10.
An interesting footnote (found in the footnotes of the NIV) is that Psalm 9 and 10 may have originally been one Psalm. The footnote tells us that in the Septuagint, they are in fact one psalm. For our purposes, it’s enough to be able to recognize that Psalm 10, our reading today, is a Psalm of David. And we see that David well recognizes the sinfulness of humans that causes trouble, strife, and injustice. And he calls out to God for relief.
Many, many months ago, we began our Old Testament survey, obviously, with the book of Genesis. And as you remember, Genesis gives us a lot of stories. We get the stories of Abraham, and Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. These are stories of covenant – God’s intention to choose a people and to redeem creation. But before that, we get the stories of Cain, and Noah, and the tower of Babel. These are stories of fallenness – the result of sin in the world. And before that, we get the garden. We get a brief description of the created world before sin entered in – a brief glimpse into life before human beings turned away from life.
There’s only a couple of chapters of Genesis that are pre-fall. We won’t get into questions of genre or form. But there’s a few things that we can learn that I think are helpful for our purposes.
Firstly, human beings had no barriers with one another. In Genesis 2, after God creates Eve, in response to ‘no suitable helper’ being found for Adam, we read:
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.Genesis 2:25
Human beings had a particular calling in creation. In the earlier creation account, found in Genesis 1, after the creation of human beings, male and female, we read:
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Genesis 1:28
Human beings had an intimate relationship with God. In Genesis 3 – this is during the account of the fall – we read that, after Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, God was walking in the garden:
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day,Genesis 3:8
Now here, I just want to note that we’re inferring a little more than in the previous passages. But the implication seems to be that God’s physical presence in the garden indicates (some might say, ‘represents’) a closeness, a present-ness that is missing post fall. Which isn’t to say that God isn’t present with his creation. But there’s a reason why subsequent theophanies in scripture are regarded as profound, miraculous, or at least extraordinary. Here, there’s something significant about the ordinariness of God walking in the garden. There’s something significant about the ordinariness of God being there.
So, what we see is that, in the garden, everything is in its proper place. Things as they were meant to be.
What we see is that, after the fall, all of this is lost – all of it is reversed.
We see that human relationships with one another are broken. In Genesis 3, the account of the fall, after Adam and Eve eat of the fruit, we read:
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.Genesis 3:7
And we also see that our relationship to creation is broken:
17…“Cursed is the ground because of you;Genesis 3:17-19
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
This deserves a little more consideration, I think. Because in the previous corresponding passage, we understand that human beings are called to, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” We don’t have time to unpack this and related verses, but what I want to say is that this is not about human beings being above all of creation. There is certainly a sense in which human beings are the pinnacle of creation – I like to think of it as human beings as the reason for creation. Because God loved us so much, before the creation of the world, the world was created for us to have time and place.
At any rate, my point is that we need to recognize that creation is not given for us to use, but to care for. As the image of God in the cosmic temple of creation, we give form to, order, and care for creation in a way that honours God’s purposes. There’s much more to be said here, including the fact that work – vocation – is therefore part of the created order. But for now, let’s move on.
Lastly, we see that, because of the fall, because of our sin, human beings separated from our creator. Though God never leaves His creation, the intimacy we once enjoyed is no longer there.
23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.Genesis 3:23-24
Now once again, none of this is anything new to those of us who were present during our study of Genesis. And it’s probably something that you’re aware of, and have heard many times before. But before I move on, I want to consider once again – by way of review, the nature of Sin:
We remember that the temptation that the serpent presented was to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”Genesis 3:4-5
We’ve discussed this in length, so let me just say in summary that the first sin, and I think every sin, is about wanting to be gods ourselves, instead of allowing God to be God. That first sin is about choosing for ourselves what is good and what is evil instead of allowing the creator of the universe to show us, and to be for us, truth.
In short, the first sin is about rejecting God’s kingdom and God’s kingship and desiring to create kingdoms of our own.
In Psalm 10, and in numerous other places in scripture, and with the evidence of our own eyes and our own experience, we see the outcome of choosing our own kingdoms, of rejecting God’s kingship. We read that:
2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord…
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”
12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.Psalm 10
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
The verses at the end of this passage reveal the attitude of a person who doesn’t take God seriously. It’s a person who believes that the final authority is him/herself. It’s a person who doesn’t recognize that, above him/herself, there is in fact a judge. There is in fact an arbiter of truth. There is a king.
It is to this king that David appeals. It’s this king whom David trusts to make right what has gone wrong. Who will bring justice and peace to a world that has lost its way.
The story of the Old Testament that we’ve been following so far is about God bringing his kingdom. It’s the story of God redeeming the brokenness of the world, of God bringing hope to a broken world by announcing that nothing is out of His hands. He’s reminding everyone that, in a world full of idols and false gods, ourselves included, there is only one King. His intention is to bring us out of death back into life – to bring the wanderers back into the kingdom.
Now the important thing to notice – though we haven’t quite gotten there in the story yet – is that Israel is not the Kingdom. We’ve talked briefly last week about how Israel wasn’t the end of the journey – and that’s kind of what I mean. You see, Israel had a particular calling – given through Abraham, but lived out through Moses and Joshua and David and Isaiah and many others. It was a calling given by God and for God’s purposes. And the calling had to do with kingdom.
But the nation of Israel wasn’t equivalent to the Kingdom of God. Israel was the people of the Kingdom. Israel was called to live out God’s rule and to demonstrate God’s rule. Israel’s call is not to be the kingdom but to live in the kingdom, and to proclaim the kingdom. Israel wasn’t the kingdom because God’s rule isn’t limited to a particular people group in a particular time and place. Or to frame it in a different way, God is God whether or not we recognize it. God is King whether or not we bow to Him. Because everything under heaven and in the earth belongs to God, the King.
But in a world that’s forgotten, in a world that’s turned their backs on Him, in a world that is chasing after shadows and reflections, Israel is called to show the way – even to make a way, the way that would be revealed and fulfilled many years later in the Saviour-King, Jesus Christ. Israel is blessed so that they can be a blessing.
So the point I want to make is we too, the new Israel, the Church of God, is likewise called to proclaim the kingdom. We too are not the kingdom. But we too, we who have seen and known the truth, are called to bear witness to the truth. In a world that has become complacent with broken relationships with one another, broken relationships with creation, and broken relationships with God, we are called to live as if there’s a king.
Therefore, how we live – as church, under the rule of God – matters. Because it’s not just about what we do, even less about what we get, in the here and now. Because how we do church, how we do community, points to something. And it points to what it’s grounded in.
Eugene Peterson says, in his book Practice Resurrection, that we were once “following the ruler of the power of the air (Ephesians2:2). But, in Christ, we enter a new life – what we are calling kingdom life, but Peterson calls resurrection life:
“Resurrection life, as defined by Jesus’ resurrection, is totally different from what we are used to, as different as death is from life. When we were oohing and aahing on the roadside of resurrection, we were basically spectators, able to pick and choose from the visual extravaganza spread out before us, and then to talk about it. We could leave whenever we wanted to. If we were bored we could retreat with a guidebook and anticipate the view around the next bend. Paul calls it “following the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). But here everything thing and everyone is born anew, or has the potential of becoming born anew: “the whole creation … groaning in labor pains” (Rom. 8:22).But here everything and everyone is born anew, or has the potential of becoming born anew: “the whole creation … groaning in labor pains” (Rom. 8:22).
Nothing and no one is a mere object, a thing that we can ignore or dispose of as we like. This is resurrection country. “Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection
We point to the kingdom by living the kingdom life. We point to the kingdom by being a kingdom people. We point to the kingdom by leaving behind the life that is not life and choosing to live the resurrection life. We point to the kingdom that is coming by living the kingdom that is already here. And we point to the kingdom by pointing to the King.