Psalm 19:1-6; Genesis 34; Matthew 12:33-45

Psalm 19:1-6  As Psalm 139’s celebration of creation (“you knit me in my mother’s womb”) appeals to the physiologists in the crowd (you know who they are, Dennis), this psalm speaks to astrophysicists as it looks up: “The heavens tell God’s glory,/ and His handiwork the shy declares.”  The diurnal cycle is celebrated and “Day to day breathes utterance/ and night to night pronounces knowledge.”  At first blush the psalmist seems to contradict himself in the next verse when he says, “there is no utterance and their are no words,/ their voice is never heard.”  But the point is that the day and night both “speak” without words, but nonetheless clearly communicate the glory, richness and depth of God’s creation.  Spoken words are superfluous; this is communication beyond speech.

The poet sets up a striking metaphor of dawn, as the sun, resting in its “tent” and then “he like a groom from his canopy comes.”  And then with great energy the groom becomes “like a warrior running his course” across the sky.  Just before writing this morning, I was out behind my house photographing the fairly spectacular sunrise and the image of a tent is perfect: The sky was covered with a thin layer of clouds, which gradually turned from orange to pink to yellow–exactly as if the sun were in its tent and coming nearer the entrance, its light illuminating the tent’s think walls–here, the cloud cover.  This gift of God’s creation, which is so easy to miss amidst our ceaseless busyness. I am really looking forward to being out in creation over the next several days!

Genesis 34  Well, we never covered the story of Dinah and Shechem in Sunday School.  There is some complicated family dynamics here.  Shechem rapes Dinah and then falls madly in love with her. Jacob’s sons hear and “they were very incensed, for he [Shechem] had done a scurrilous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter.” (34:7)  Shechem’s father tries to ignore the rape and emphasize the positive, saying, “Pray, give her him as wife,” (34:8) and then expands into a full blown offer of just about anything, “I will give what you say to me.”(34:12)  Interestingly, Jacob remains silent, but his sons take over the negotiation (more negotiation!) and say they will agree only if Shechem is circumcised. (Ouch.)  Which Shechem does.  But Simeon and Levi still  avenge their sister’s honor by killing Hamor and Shechem and retrieving Dinah. Only now does Jacob speak, “You have stirred up trouble for me.”  But the sons reply only “Like a whore should our sister be treated?” (34:31)–and the story ends on this unresolved note.

This is one of the more morally ambiguous stories in the Bible, with both sides acting wrongly and deceitfully.  And the author does not neatly straighten things out at the end.  Two things we can take away, I think: Jacob’s silence through all this, and his failure to be an honest broker allows the sons to become the dominant power in the family–and we will see the fruits of Jacob abandoning his leadership position shortly. And of course, we see the tainted fruit of honor killings in the Middle east to this very day.

Second, this is life as it is actually lived–and one more mark of the incredible authenticity of the Bible: wrongs are committed by all parties and there is no neat resolution–just as in real life.  I also think that this story begins to set the stage for why the Law becomes necessary: It is God alone who can restore order.

Matthew 12:33-45   Jesus is dealing with a more subtle problem: hypocrisy: “How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (12:34).  Which leads to the larger problem: the words we speak.  (I think that right after money, the number three thing Jesus talks about the most, is the stuff we say…) “for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (12:37) I think if I though about Jesus’ stern words of accounting for our words (not just our deeds!) on the Day of Judgement, I’d be a lot more circumspect in what I say!

Jesus makes his remarkable prophecy about his death and resurrection, “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.” (12:40).  This statement has real prophetic impact when Matthew’s readers and we encounter it: we know exactly what Jesus was referring to.  But I’m pretty sure the Pharisees (and everybody else, including the disciples) had zero idea of what he was talking about.  Which is OK; if we understood everything Jesus said, there would be no need for theologians…

I will be writing sporadically over the coming week as I head east and north.  Unbelievable how much stuff (long underwear, layers and layers of stuff, hats, gloves, balaclava, ice crampons, etc.) you have to bring along to spend a couple of days outdoors where the forecast high is 7 degrees…  But I’m pretty excited.

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