Psalm 66:1-15; Numbers 7:72-8:4; Mark 12:13-17

Psalm 66:1-15  This psalm of praise is rich with imagery and metaphor as the psalmist hymns God in military terms triumphant victor in battle.  All God needs to do is stand up and appear: “Let God arise, let His enemies scatter, and let His foes flee before Him.” (1) The smoke clears and God’s (and David’s) enemies scatter like rats when the light is turned on.  I wonder of Steven Spielberg had this simile in mind when in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis simply melt away at the power of the theophany: “as wax melts before fire, may the wicked perish before God.” (2)

Only the righteous remain and they “rejoice and exult before God, and be gladdened in joy. Sing to God, hymn His name.” (4)  The psalms never let us forget that worship is juxtaposed to every activity of life, including battle.

We are to “Pave the way for the Rider of Clouds,…and exult before Him.” (5)– a memorable image indeed.  But we also must always remember that God is not just the God of the mighty and victorious, but also of the weak: “Father of orphans and widows’ judge, God in His holy abode. God brings the lonely back to their homes, sets free captives in jubilation.”  (6)

It is in this tender mercy for the oppressed is where the God of Israel–our God–is so different from the “small g” gods of David’s time and the “small g” gods of our time.  It is God who cares for the widows and orphans and the weak. The state–the new god we are supposed to trust in, and receive beneficence from, may speak with noble intention, but like all human endeavor it is badly flawed in execution.  Only God in his mercy can truly accomplish both these great and small things.  And our only response is gratitude, singing and worship.

 Numbers 7:72-8:4   The concluding paragraph of this long catalog chapter does not appear to have any connection to what precedes it in chapter 7 nor to what follows in chapter 8.  Rather, it simply describes how God and Moses communicate, although rather mysteriously, it does not actually mention the name of God, so we have to infer God among the thicket of masculine pronouns.

We find out that there is no theophany, only God’s voice: “he [Moses] would hear the voice being spoken to him” and we know where God is speaking from, “from above the covering that is over the Ark of the Covenant , from between the two cherubim,” (89)  A voice is how God usually appears to Moses, be it the burning bush, the long disquisitions on Sinai and now in the Tabernacle.  Only once does Moses actually see God’s glory and then only with his back turned.

There are two instances in Jesus’ ministry where God speaks: at Jesus’ baptism and again on the Mount of Transfiguration.  No wonder Peter wanted to setup a booth for Moses, that Great Communicator with God.

And today, we ask “what is God saying to us?” But will it ever be an actual audible voice of God? I know someone who has heard God speak audibly to him, and I believe him.

Mark 12:13-17  The question about paying taxes is perhaps the most famous of the Pharisee’s trick questions for Jesus.  My own take is that this question was part of a larger plot by the Temple authorities and their hangers-on to take down Jesus by having Rome conveniently remove him from the scene for sedition.

“Aha,” the elders may have said, “This Jesus keeps talking about the Kingdom of God, so let’s force him to commit treason when he obviously states that the Kingdom of God trumps the Roman empire–and that taxes should be withheld from Rome.  He’s already popular with the hoi polloi, that statement will only make him more popular.  Everyone hates to pay taxes.”

So, thinking they have Jesus ensnared by his earlier statements, the officials send off a couple of junior Pharisees to pop the question.  But once again, Jesus says the unexpected thing: the Kingdom of God is not there to replace the Roman Empire.  They somehow exist side by side in a manner that is completely unexpected–not to mention incomprehensible.

And when Mark says, “they were utterly amazed at him.” (17) he means not just astounded, but befuddled and not a little angry that the trap had been sprung and the prey had once again escaped.  Clearly, it was back to the beginning.  A new, more complicated plot now had to be devised.



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