Psalm 40:9-17; Exodus 34; Matthew 26:59-75

Great to hear Mary Naegeli on prayer and Teresa of Avila this morning.  And by her definition, I guess my scribblings here are a form of prayer.  So, here goes…

Psalm 40:9-17  The psalmist’s close connection to God compels him to speak, “I heralded justice in a great assembly.  Look, I will not seal my lips.” (9)  When we are connected, we cannot keep it to ourselves, “I withheld not from the great assembly Your steadfast truth.” (10)  But this is two-way truth.  Just as we cannot hold back from speaking about God, so, too, “You, LORD, will not hold back Your mercies from me.”

As Mary pointed out this morning, God is always there, always constant, even when it doesn’t seem that way.  As the psalmist notes, “Your steadfast truth shall always guard me.” (12)  But more than even steadfastness is the reality of rescue.  God is a rescuing God and we, who seek and are rescued can do aught else but “exult and rejoice in You.” (16)  And “May [we] always say, ‘God is great!’–those [of us] who love Your rescue.”

The juxtaposition of exultation and rescue is breathtaking.  For what person rescued from drowning or any other danger would not want to embrace his rescuer and shout praises not just for the fact that he’s ben rescued, but to sing praises of the rescuer as well?

Exodus 34  God quite justifiably says to Moses, in effect, “hey, you broke the first two tablets I gave you, now go carve another set.”  Moses goes up on the mountain a second time as God announces his character, as well as a condition of forgiveness: “A compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and  abounding in kindness and good faith, keeping kindness for the thousandth generation, bearing crime, trespass, and offense, yet He does not wholly acquit, reckoning the crime of fathers with sons and sons of  sons, to the third generation and the fourth.” (34:8,9)  God will forgive sins that are confessed, but not if they remain unconfessed.  Which makes sense.

We then have a repetition of the Covenant written earlier in Exodus.  This time, though, with what seems like special emphasis on avoiding intermingling with the current inhabitants of Canaan, “lest he become a snare in your midst.” (34:12)  God makes it abundantly clear to Moses, “For you shall not bow to another god, for the LORD, His name is Jealous, a jealous God He is. (34:15)   In light of the golden calf fiasco, there’s a new commandment: “No molten gods shall you make for yourselves.” (34:17).  

Unfortunately, we know how this all turned out… But we must never forget: God’s terms and conditions are abundantly clear.  Israel can never claim they weren’t warned–or continued to be warned by the prophets.  So, too, ourselves.  I know I continue to minimize the downsides of disobeying God.  But we can never accuse God of not being very clear on this point.

Moses comes down from the mountain, his face reflecting the glory of God.  So much so, that he must remain veiled.  The question is, do we reflect God in our own lives?  Or like thermodynamic black bodies, simply absorb the light?

[Interesting side note from Alter that “glory” was mistranslated in the Latin Vulgate to mean “horns”, which explains why Michelangelo’s famous statue of the seated Moses includes small horns sprouting from Moses’ forehead…]

Matthew 26:59-75  I’ve always wondered who the unnamed witnesses were that the priests were able to finally dig up and get them (force them?) to say, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” (26:61) What was in it for them?  Were they bribed, or just angry?  Jesus’ strategy of not responding to these witnesses’ verifiably true statement is brilliant.  The priests are forced to decide for themselves.  It’s only in response  to the Big Question (tell us if you are the Messiah) that Jesus speaks.  And then only to toss it right back in the faces of his accusers by quoting Psalm 110 and Daniel 7:13–passages his accusers surely knew, and which incensed them only further.

Frustrated out of their minds, they could respond only like little children: spitting and slapping.  There is an almost comical note here as Jesus’ accusers ludicrously try to test his messianic powers by having him identify the people who slapped him. (26:68).  That a Messiah is somehow imbued with telepathic power.  And Jesus’ silence leaves the final question unanswered. For we must each answer that question for ourselves.

What a contrast Jesus’ silence is to Peter’s false answers.  In one sense, Matthew answers the accuser’s question because it is his closest disciple who has struck Jesus.  And as the Psalms reminds us repeatedly, it is our tongues which are fearsome weapons.  Unlike the psalmist who exults when rescued by God, Peter’s fear–and our own fears–not only make us break our silence, but to deny our savior. How many times have I denied Jesus?  Both in silence and in speech?

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