Chaff in the Wind II

Daily Devotional for Wednesday, October 14, 2020 from Rev. Eric Douglass

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…

their delight is in the law of the Lord…

they are like trees planted by streams of water…

their leaves do not wither….

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away…

the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6, abbreviated)

In the last meditation, we explored the first Psalm. David talks about those who delight in the law of the Lord, stating that they are like “trees planted by streams of water.” David compares these to the wicked who are “like chaff that the wind drives away.” Chaff is the husk around the seed and is removed in the milling process. One can imagine standing in a first-century outdoor milling area and hearing the grinding wheel as it separates the seed from its husk. The chaff is blown away. It floats on the wind like clouds of dust, billowing over the fields and houses, till it is finally blown out to sea. This is the legacy of the wicked.
Of course, the world does not believe David or the Psalms. The world privileges those with fame and importance. Presidents, kings, CEOs, Pharaohs, Caesars, senators…these are the positions that garner special privilege. People strive for these positions…some lie, manipulate and even kill for them. And many of them are rewarded. The victors stand over the people. They build monuments to themselves and issue declarations about their accomplishments. Their legacies affect the lives of millions. They change the course of history. They are remembered.
But is this really the case? Percy Shelley wrote the poem “Ozymandias.”  This is a reference to one of the pharaohs of Egypt, who we know by the name Ramesses II. Ramesses lived over a millennia before Christ was born and was one of the most famous of the Egyptian pharaohs. He constructed many statues of himself, some of them still standing in the dry sands of Egypt. The most famous are the four statues of himself at Abu Simbel, each one nearly 70 feet tall. But Shelley didn’t see all the grandeur or importance that Ramesses attributed to himself. He saw something else…something about the truth of the world:
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Position is transient. Importance fades. They have gained Ramesses nothing. Shelley calls it a “colossal wreck.” David called it “chaff in the wind.” If Shelley had taken the time to read the first Psalm, he would have found David’s words insightful.
Unfortunately, Shelley doesn’t offer an alternative to this relentless search for importance. One gets the impression that it is pointless to do great works, as the endless sands claim all. But David would disagree. There is a path that sinks one’s roots in the deep waters. It is a difficult path to find, as the world has hidden the entrance behind weeds and brush…the glitter of fame and promise of importance. But David saw it. He had lived with all the power and position and importance that a person could have, and only after this wrote about a better way: “Their delight is in the law of the Lord.” Here one’s leaves never wither, not even in the endless sands…not even in the desert wind. One must wonder if Ozymandias would agree?

High in the heavens, the Lord of All looks down upon this world, and smiles that it took the poet so long to figure this out. Then the Lord looks so see if we have.

Our Lord:
We have become so enamored
with the glitter of fame
and the promise of self-importance,
and the lure of an esteemed position,
that we have turned off the narrow path.
We chase the chaff in the wind.
Mistaking it for the good seed,
we make the chaff into our bread.
And then we wonder why we remain thin and hungry,
and are surprised when our lives feel so empty.
Give us clear vision.
so that we might see the chaff for what it is.
Give us taste for the good seed,
so that we might stop eating the debris in the wind.
Give us a hunger for the bread that yields…
Leaves that never wither.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, though which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.