Psalm 75; Numbers 31:13-47; Luke 2:1-20

Psalm 75  No question that the editors who compiled the psalms had their wits about them when determining the order of the psalms.  After the psalmist’s unsuccessful efforts in the preceding psalm to cajole God by a variety of appeals into speaking and acting, God most assuredly speaks in Psalm 75.  In fact, we hear God’s voice in about 80% of the psalm.  And looking at in light of the earlier psalm,

In a mild rebuke to those who endeavor to get God to speak on their own terms, He states, “When I seize the appointed time, / I Myself shall judge rightly.” (2) In short, it’s My time, not yours.  And by the way, He reminds us, yes, I’m the Creator, and were it not for Me, you all–and creation itself– would have disappeared some eons ago: “Earth and its dwellers would melt,/  had I not set fast its pillars.” (3)

The wicked may think they are in charge and triumphant, but God advises them, ” I said to the revelers, Do not revel, / and to the wicked, Lift not your horn. / Lift not your horn on high.” (4)  That these men think they are in charge of human affairs is an illusion, because”God is the judge, / it is He Who brings down and lifts up.” (7)  Moreover, the despairing words of the earlier psalm notwithstanding, there will indeed be final judgement on the wicked: “…yes, its dregs they will drain, all the earth’s wicked will drink.” (8)

Despite His silence, and despite the illusion that we believe we are in control of our destiny, it is God who rules and judges.  Current events in the world today certainly underscore the reality that the pride and hubris of those who claim to “know” and those who claim to “lead” are on a fool’s errand.  Our peace comes form only one place: the assurance that God is in charge and that God, not men, will ultimately judge.

Numbers 31:13-47  So, the captains of Israel take their army and go off and rout the Midianites and bring back lots of booty, including the women and children. Rather than bask in victory, “Moses was furious with the commanders of the force,” (14).  The reason for his anger is indeed disturbing: “You have let every female live!” (15) and he goes on to explain that these women (not to mention the men) were involved in the Balaam affair at Peor that resulted in the scourge that decimated thousands of Israelites.  Seeking what can only be his own vengeance, he orders, “kill every male among the little ones, and every woman who has known a man in lying with a male, kill.” (17)  Only virgin females escape execution.

The only explanation for this that comes to mind seems to be that Moses was adamant in demonstrating the dangers of being seduced by alien women.  Which of course becomes the major issue when Israel conquers Canaan but fails to eradicate the population.

It’s important to not that was Moses who was angry, not God.  And it is Moses who takes vengeance in defiance of God’s command that “vengeance is mine.”  We can treat this incident only as an example of a human leader, who when operating outside the purview of God’s direction sins big time.  That Moses’ own wife was a Midianite only adds to the perverse irony of this incident.

As for this chapter, following the incident of Moses’ anger, the accountants take over and we read a rather compete inventory of what was taken from Midian, including a careful accounting of proportions offered to the army and to the priests..

Luke 2:1-20  Sometimes the OT to NT transitions in the Moravian readings are a bit disconcerting as we move from a massacre of children that pre-figures Herod to the most widely read Gospel verses in our culture today: Luke’s sublime infancy narrative.

To ensure his readers that Luke is not writing a fairy tale, but actual history in real space and time, he makes sure we understand first the time this birth occurs: while Augustus emperor at the time that “Quirinius was governor of Syria.”  Then, Luke carefully establishes place: “Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem,” (2:4)  Finally, he makes it clear why: there was a census going on and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to register.

They were not yet married, only engaged.  I’m fascinated as to why Luke, unlike Matthew, did not feel it necessary to explain Joseph’s predicament and how an angel came to explain to Joseph what was going on with Mary. My theory is that while Matthew’s Jewish audience would certainly be scandalized by an unmarried woman, Luke’s Roman readers took these sorts of things in more casual stride.  Not too different than between the Victorians and present day with respect to the relationship between pregnancy and marriage…

On the other hand, Luke’s Roman audience required some serious confirmation as to the authenticity, authority, and ultimate kingship of this child born in such an unlikely place. Cue the angels.  What better authentication than an angelic visitation–this time to a crowd of shepherds?

And why shepherds, the lowest order of the hoi polloi, rather than the Bethlehem town leaders, the local Pharisees and scribes, or even King Herod?  Well, not only would that be politically dangerous, but more importantly, I think, the angelic visitation to the shepherds is another of Luke’s clues that there was something definitely unexpected about this Messiah.  That he would turn out to be quite different than what people assumed.

Which of course is Jesus’ entire operating premise: the unexpected.


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