Psalm 35:11-18; Exodus 18:7-19:9; Matthew 23:13-22

Greetings from the snowy Midwest.  Clearing skies are promised for later today, but Geoff was out this morning shoveling his driveway…

Psalm 35:11-18  David’s agonized prayer continues as he recounts his afflictions at the hands of his enemies.  I’m struck by how the torture he feels arises from the words rather than the actions of his enemies: “Outrageous witnesses rose,/ of things I knew not they asked me” (11) and “Their mouths gaped and they were not still” (15b).  Is there anything more hurtful than “with contemptuous mocking chatter they gnashed their teeth against me?” (16)  In the case of children, we call this bullying.  For grown men, it is an affliction we must generally bear in silence.

David’s–and our–only recourse is to cry out to God.  And here, David does not ask God to mete out vengeance.  At this point, his weariness is so great that he asks only for rescue from his tormenters: “Bring back my life from their violence, / from the lions, my very being.” (17)

But underneath David’s agony is a foundation of faith in God.  Unlike so many of us, David does not blame God for his woes.  Instead, he promises to make public proclamation of God’s benevolence, “I shall acclaim You in a great assembly,/ in a vast crowd I shall praise you.” (18).  The question looms: Could I even contemplate, much less actually carry out, what David promises God he will do upon being rescued?  I’m not so sure as he is.

Exodus 18:7-19:9  Jethro’s arrival in peace (and domestic tranquility) stands in stark contrast with the battle between the Israelites and the Amekelites that precedes it. (side note: If Moses is old by this time, his father-in-law is really old…) Jethro exclaims, “I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods,” (18:11), a reaffirmation of the underlying theme of Exodus: that God’s acts in Egypt prove once and for all His supremacy over all the small-g gods of the time–and our time…

I don’t know if someone has yet written a book along the lines of, “Biblical Examples of Great Management and Leadership,” but Jethro certainly gives excellent advice to his son-in-law of the benefits of delegation.  Seeing that Moses is burdened all day with people coming to him for decisions, Jethro suggests that Moses appoint judges to handle the task for him, telling Moses, “it will lighten [your load] from upon you and they will bear it with you.” (18:22-23).  And Moses chooses wisely, installing three managerial layers in the hierarchy: “able men from all Israel and he set them as heads over the people, chiefs of  thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens.” (18:25-26)

These administrative matters dealt with and Jethro having departed, the Israelites arrive at that most significant location: the foot of Mt. Sinai.  God resumes his dialog with Moses, beginning with a reiteration of the Covenant: “if you will  truly heed My voice and keep My covenant, you will become for Me a treasure among all the peoples, for Mine is all the earth.” (19:5).  God understands us in every regard, not least of which being that we need to hear and the same things over and over.  Which is why He states the Covenant, simple as it is, again and again.  And why we need to worship every week, or more often.  We are indeed people of short memory.

Matthew 23:13-22  Jesus, knowing what is coming, and I think to a certain extent to make sure the conspiracy moves into action, continues his disquisition (harangue?) before the scribes and Pharisees, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.” (23:13)  If you’re a religious leader, those are fighting words!

But wait, there’s more.  Even if these guys make a single convert by crossing the sea, “you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (23:15).  And then, “Woe to you, blind guides.” (23:16).  And don’t forget, this is front of the crowd.  Even though Jesus has spoken the truth, they are publicly humiliated and inwardly seething.  There’s little question now that they’ll hesitate to take Jesus out.

The question is, that in my own theological “wisdom,” as well as my actions am I being a “blind guide,” and undoing the work of the Kingdom for others, even as I think I’m making a positive contribution?

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