Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
The line it is drawnBob Dylan, 1964
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
As much as it did in the day of King David and its author, Asaf, a worship leader in ancient Israel 3000 years ago, Psalm 73 speaks to how masses of ordinary folk see the world in this age. As such, it is true prophecy with a timeless message, as well as a poignant warning to all the arrogant who think they will never have to pay for their crimes against the poor, the downtrodden, the abused, and the oppressed of every kind and degree.
As Asaf observes, it seems as if the rich and evil just get richer and compound their evil depredations at the expense of people who just want to live a quiet normal life with a modicum of comfort and perhaps a measure of social recognition for themselves and their family. While the elites devise more and more methods of extracting everything they can take from them and their toil, the “folks” want reasonable security for their families and opportunities for their children to enjoy the good things they have worked for.
More and more regular citizens become aware that much of their work does not contribute to their own modest hopes and aspirations but is siphoned off by unscrupulous oligarchs, aristocrats, plutocrats, and downright criminals scheming to exploit every means possible to maximize profits and gain more wealth for themselves and their coterie. The plutocrats are seen as manipulating and even controlling the political oligarchs by giving them both a financial cut of the loot and a path to continued future power and influence once they have played out their political credit.
In our day in almost every state, the horrendous actions of the criminal sector are becoming more and more brazen and bold in directly challenging the “legitimate” sector for direct control of whole regions and sectors of the economy and society. They are often so deeply intertwined with the political authorities that their actions are almost indistinguishable. When the populace awakens to this reality, it becomes a mere matter of time until the exploited become so enraged and angry that they begin to rebel.
What Psalm 73 and other Psalms and prophetic parts of the Bible, both Jewish and Christian, declare is, whatever may appear to be happening, the Creator is always aware and keeping tabs on all of this. Sooner or later, everything is paid for. Evil always reaps its own destruction if it is not ended by “repentance” – a true and sincere turning away from it with restoration and restitution.
“Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” When you drive people into the last corner where no hope is left, the courage of despair rises up with rage and fury to attack the oppressors, even if it seems hopeless. “Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.” “Be sure that your sins will find you out.” “God cannot be mocked [with impunity].”
These are hopeful, sobering sayings, but the difficulty for the victims of the accumulating mountain of injustices and oppressions is in not readily seeing anything being done right now to put an end to them. Ordinary folks still want and hope for that quiet life for themselves and their children and grandchildren. Sometimes it takes generations for the oppression to become so unbearable that the explosion of wrath can no longer by prevented.
History has shown that what may happen is the emergence of someone even more subtle and ruthless than the brutal and callous coteries who have ensconced themselves in the castles with their garrisons of men-at-arms – the “forces of order. The castles of the 21st Century are the bastions of the socio-political-economic Powers of our day.
When the people’s apparent “great hope” emerges, they will usually be seen as “a man [woman if you prefer] of the long-suffering people”, “one of us”, with the power to articulate the spoken and half-understood grievances and outrage of those who have been, or see themselves as having been, disentitled, disenfranchised, used, fobbed off with hollow promises and empty rhetoric, etc.
There is no shortage of examples from history to demonstrate this phenomenon and what can happen when the oratorical, inspirational, motivational, and organizational genius emerges to give voice to and stimulate action from within “the masses”. Here are a few: Alcibiades in ancient Athens; the Gracchi brothers, Spartacus, and Julius Caesar in ancient Rome; “Jacques” and the Jacquerie in Medieval France, Watt Tyler in Medieval England, William Wallace in Medieval Scotland, Thomas Muntzer in Reformation Germany, The Jacobins (Murat and Robespierre, et. al.) in Revolutionary France, Lenin and the Soviets in Russia, the Taipei and Mao in China, Mussolini and Fascism in Italy, and, perhaps the “greatest” populist revolutionary exemplar, Hitler. There have been many smaller-scale models of this phenomenon as well.
As we survey human societies around the world in the 21st Century, we cannot avoid the question, “How close are we to such uprisings?” If such were to break out in this day, can they take on the scale of one of the massive events listed above?
Perhaps of some comfort to the entrenched powers of 21st Century society, most of the outbreaks of popular rage in history have failed in their ultimate aim of overthrowing the oligarchs, plutocrats, aristocratic oppressors, etc. The “forces of order” are often too strong for the poorly armed, amateurishly-led populace to uproot the “Establishment” without some inside help, perhaps some opportunistic or idealistic and repentant person or group from the ruling set who can swing some of his own sort, or at least some part of the military and police forces, to assist the rebels. We see this at the Fall of the Bastille in Paris in 1789, and in St. Petersburg in 1917 with the sailors’ revolt.
If we consider all of this from the perspective of Asaf, the ancient Israelite poet-prophet (in ancient societies poets often had the role of “prophet”), he does not seem to condone bloody revolution as a good solution to the massive injustices suffered by the underclasses. Instead, he seems to advise patience and trust in God, who sees and will, in his Providence, bring retribution upon the oppressors and exploiters.
From the perspective of an ordinary citizen of any age, this is a hard pill to swallow. Asaf is very aware of that. Read (again?) a good translation of the actual Biblical text or, if preferred, refer to my paraphrase in the post previous to this. Perhaps this “counsel of patience in the face of injustice and adversity” just seems too unrealistic to practice, especially to Westerners of the 21st Century CE. It is much more satisfying to take action, even violent action if things get too desperate. What can Asaf be thinking as he tells us to wait for God to settle with our abusers and oppressors?
“They wear their pride brazenly and move along openly using violence and intimidation when it suits them. They grow fat with ease in their rich lifestyle, while their minds always devise new evil which infests their hearts and oozes out into their actions. They speak with malice and scoffing while they spew out threats. They even mock God and heaven while they strut and swagger boastfully here on earth.
“Many people are taken in by them and their “success” and turn to them, swallowing their “how-to-get-rich” story whole and acting like them. Those arrogant swaggerers sneer, “I don’t see any evidence that there’s a God watching! Does he even exist?”
“There they are, those evil scourges of humanity, always at ease, getting rich, swelled with self-importance and power. It seems to me these days as if I’ve remained good and innocent of wrongdoing for nothing. I know nothing but trouble every day, as if I’m being punished the minute I get up in the morning.”Psalm 73 paraphrase
How can I/you/we find the patience to go on enduring the burdens they heap on us so callously? What about the crushed, much-worse-off victims in so many other afflicted states in Africa, Asia, Latin America? Is it at all reasonable to suggest, “If you just wait patiently, God will give those despicable evil people their just desserts in due time?” How can that be seen as any kind of solution for people watching their children die and their humble hopes crushed as so much dung under the boots of ruthless semi-human killers?
The very earth calls out for redress and for just consequences for the very worst of these beings who look like humans but act like incarnate devils.
Here in Canada, perhaps more than in any other Western nation, we move as in a dream far removed from most of the turmoil. We are deceived, just as our leaders seem to be. They but reflect the somnolence of the people as we imagine that we shall escape what is happening far offshore. Our mighty southern neighbour is deep in internal turmoil, and its waves are lapping at our doorstep, even spilling over, although so far we have felt but ripples.
The point is that, far and wide, the world stage is set for some great emergence, some sort of great upheaval in human order and society. Nature itself seems to mirror this.
To borrow more Biblical imagery, we might say the “the whole earth is groaning in distress felt right in the gut [the old translations say “travail”] as it awaits the glorious revelation of the sons (children) of the Creator.” (St. Paul in Romans, chapter 8.)
It seems an appropriate time to be describing where things have come to in apocalyptic language. Read again the opening citation from Bob Dylan who might, with considerable justice, be called the “poet laureate” and greatest minstrel of this time in human history. For those who miss the allusions in the last verse of that great classic song of almost 60 years ago, they are firmly anchored in the teachings of Yeshua/Jesus who was referring to the elite of the society he was living in two thousand years ago.
“The times they are a-changin'” but, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”!
TO BE CONTINUED