Psalm 39:7-13; Exodus 31:12-32:29; Matthew 26:36-46

Psalm 39:7-13  The psalmist continues to weave supplication together with reflections on the brevity of a man’s life.  In these verses there is an outright plead for rescue, to be saved from a sin that would render the psalmist too like the wicked, “From all my sins save me. Make me not the scoundrel’s scorn.”(9)   But then a plea for God to relent: “Take away from me Your scourge,  from the blow of Your hand I perish.”

Is God’s punishment too harsh or disproportionate?  In the deuteronomic scheme of things–cause and effect punishment, if you will–it’s not unreasonable to tell God “enough is enough.”  Even as people of the New Covenant there can be times where we can feel we have suffered enough, and we will pray for the suffering to cease.  But as the psalmist implies here, is it is God who is doing the punishment, or are these simply the circumstances that are creating the suffering?  In any event, it seems entirely reasonable to feel, as the psalmist does, that God is allowing the punishment and therefore it is to God to whom we pray for it to cease.

“For I am a sojourner with You, a new settler like all my fathers.” (12) suggests that he is a resident alien in a new country–a theme Peter picks up in his epistle.  But here it builds from the theme of ephemerality.  We are resident aliens for a brief time here in God’s creation.  And in an almost Job-like request, the psalmist asks God to, “Look away from me, that I may catch my breath before I depart and am not.” (13)  God’s power is so great, that it is almost too much for us to take in our human weakness and sin.

The psalmist’s ambivalence about God, who is at once our rescuer but in whose awesomeness we cannot stand too long in our brief lives is one more example of the relentless honesty of the psalms.

 Exodus 31:12-32:29   After giving instructions about keeping the sabbath, God finishes speaking and hands the tablets to Moses:  “He gave Moses when He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai the two tablets of the Covenant, tablets of stone written by the finger of God.” (31:18)  There was certainly more detailed instruction on these tablets than just the Ten Commandments, and it would definitely take the finger of God to write all this on two pieces of stone that a man could carry(!)

Meanwhile, down at the foot of Sinai, the people decide Moses has dilly-dallied too long up there in the cloud.  They decide to take worship into their own hands.  They create the infamous golden calf, and bow down, worshipping the gods of Egypt, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (32:5)  God is definitely displeased, “I see this people and, look, it is a stiff-necked people. And 10 now leave Me be, that My wrath may flare against them, and I will put an end to them…” (32:9) Basically, God plans to start all over where he began with Abraham, making exactly the same promise to Moses, the only man who has obeyed him: “and I will make you a great nation.” (32:10b).

But Moses, who has interceded for his people so many times before Pharaoh, now intercedes for them before God with a very logical and reasonable argument: ““Why, O LORD, should your wrath flare against Your people that You brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand?” (32:11) making the point that the Egyptians would rightly wonder why God had gone to the bother of rescuing the Israelites only to destroy them in the desert.  Moses also asks God to “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel Your servants, to whom You swore by Yourself” and made the original covenant.  God relents and Moses comes down to confront the people.

So, is God really so emotional that he would destroy people he has rescued?  Well, God requires justice, and this is not emotion so much as it is a clear picture of justice demanded.  This story is a Christological precursor of Jesus’ intercession for us before a justly angry God. And like the Israelites, we need to be grateful for that intercession.

Matthew 26:36-46  I think it is in Gethsemane where we see Jesus at his most human and vulnerable: “and began to be grieved and agitated,” (26:37b).  In this state there is only one thing–and one thing only–that Jesus can do: pray.  He prays with the same desperation we read in today’s psalm, that God relent from the punishment about to be meted out–the punishment we each deserve.  But in the end, acceptance.  The acceptance we find so often in the psalms of supplication.

Jesus wakes the disciples three times during the night, and only after he says, “the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” does he rouse them from their sleep.  Much has been made of the sleeping disciples, but I think we tend to be too hard on them. Did they really abandon Jesus in his time of deepest need?  Perhaps. I’m pretty sure I would have fallen asleep too, even though I had just heard Jesus’ speech about the necessity of remaining awake because we don’t know the hour the master will return.  The sleeping disciples are the contrast between Jesus’ strength to accept his fate and our own human weakness: to fall asleep when we should be praying.



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