Psalm 64; Numbers 5; Mark 10:46-52

Psalm 64  Even though there is no superscription describing David’s circumstances, we know instantly that this is a psalm of supplication spoken in a fairly desperate situation where David is surrounded by men intending him harm: “Hear, God, my voice in my plea.  From fear of the enemy guard my life.” (1)  However, unlike previous psalms, David’s peril seems to be not on the battlefield, but from plotters in the midst of his court.  They are ostensibly his counselors, but are conspiring to overthrow him, “Conceal me from the counsel of evil men, from the hubbub of the wrongdoers” (2).  (I like Alter’s “hubbub of wrongdoers” as over against the NRSV’s “from the scheming of evildoers” since it captures the mumbling and murmuring one would expect in a court rife with plotting and conniving.)

And their weapons are, as so often in the Psalms, words: “who whetted their tongue like a sword,  pulled back their arrow—a bitter word—” (2,3).  They use words to two purposes: first using them “to shoot in concealment the innocent,” and then to plot David’s overthrow, believing their conspiracy will be successful: “They encourage themselves with evil words. They recount how traps should be laid. They say, Who will see them?” (5)

Human nature has not changed a whit in 3000 years: even today, men conspire, like David’s courtiers believing that they will get away with it, saying, “Let them search out foul deeds! We have hidden them from the utmost search, in a man’s inward self, and deep is the heart.” (6)

And sometimes they do.  Except at the end: “But God will shoot an arrow at them. In a flash they will be struck down.”  And their weapon–their tongues–will be turned back against them: “And their tongue will cause them to stumble, all who see them will nod in derision.”  As my father said often, “the chickens will come home to roost.”  Or as we marketers say, “once you start believing your own press releases, the end is near.”

Numbers 5  This uncomfortable chapter begins with a reprise of the rule from Leviticus that those with disease must remain outside the camp lest they defile the others in the camp.  Then it moves to confession of wrongdoing, including the issue of redemption: “if the man should have no redeemer to render back to him for his guilt, what is rendered back shall be the LORD’s” (7), which of course Jesus Christ has taken care of for us.

But the centerpiece of the chapter dealing with a woman accused of her husband of adultery feels downright barbaric.  Alter notes that this is the only trial by ordeal described in the Bible.  The husband, on the mere suspicion that his wife has laid with another man, brings her to the priest where she is shamed by the ritual of undoing her hair (18) and required to drink brackish water or what Alter renders as “bitter besetting water.”  If she’s guilty, there are dire physical consequences of drinking the water. If she is innocent, the water has no effect.  (At least there is no death penalty for adultery involved…)

If nothing else, this chapter reminds us of the enormous asymmetry between the sexes in the OT up through Jesus’ time–and the centuries since then.  The husband is free to accuse his wife, even without evidence.  The disturbing last sentence of this disturbing chapter says it all: “and the man shall be clear of guilt, and that woman shall bear her guilt.”  Even if she proves innocent, the husband suffers no consequences.

This is one of those places where we can only say, “noted,” and move on–but always wondering what the inerrantists and literalists have to say about this chapter.

Mark 10:46-52   After all the drama of Jesus’ prediction of events to come at Jerusalem, the dialog of James and John seeking power, and the consequent anger of the other disciples, Mark provides a bit of respite in recounting the healing of blind beggar, Bartimaeus.

We cannot miss the irony of Mark’s juxtaposition of this story with what immediately precedes it. Jesus asks quite directly, “What do you want me to do for you?” and Bartimaeus replies just as directly, “My teacher, let me see again.” (51)  Would that the disciples could ask as simply as Bartimaeus because then they, too, would see what jesus was about.  Not to mention us…

As he often does upon healing someone, Jesus remarks, “your faith has made you well.”  Where the disciples are distracted by confusion mixed with visions of political glory, Bartimaeus is the exemplar of simple faith.  “I’m blind; I’d like to see.” Jesus is asking nothing more of us.  

We must lay aside our desires, our schemes, our  ambitions for power, and as Oswald Chambers would put it, abandon ourselves to Christ.  We must empty ourselves as Bartimaeus surely had, and rely on one simple thing only: faith that Jesus is who he says he is and will do what he promises.

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