Psalm 76; Numbers 31:48-32:27; Luke 2:21-32

Psalm 76:  We have moved rapidly from God’s silence in Psalm 74 to God as supreme judge in 75 to God as all-conquering warrior and judge in today’s psalm: “…His dwelling in Zion. / There did He shatter the bow’s fiery shafts, / the shield and the sword and the battle.” (4)  Opposing armies are essentially paralyzed because of God’s overwhelming power: “The stout-hearted were despoiled, / they fell into a trance, / and all the men of valor could not lift a hand.” (6)

God not only speaks, His voice terrifies: “By Your roar, O God of Jacob, / chariot and horse were stunned.” This is not the avuncular, white-haired God of popular imagination; this the angry, judging God: “From the heavens You made judgment heard, / the earth was afraid and fell silent,” (9).  But, as we see so often, God cares above all for the poor and lowly, and he judges others who are mightier than those in light of what they have done for–or against–the lowest in society: “God rose up for judgment / to rescue all the lowly of earth.”  Jesus’ disquisition in Matthew 25 is not a radical new thought; it is a restatement of what God has been saying all along: God cares above all for the poor, the dispossessed, the sick.

But as the psalmist reminds us at the end, those who would be great and who fail to remember this should stand in mortal terror: “He plucks the life-breath of princes./ He is fearsome to the kings of the earth.” (13)

Numbers 31:48-32:27:  In this great preparatory battle against the Midianites, the captains of the army report, “ Your servants have counted the heads of the men of war who are in our  hands , and not a man of them is missing.”” (50).  Miraculously, no man in Israel’s army has been killed.  This was definitely a rout.

The officers’ immediate response is, “we would offer up the LORD’s offering, each man what he found of gold ornaments…to atone for our lives before the LORD.” (51)  The soldiers knew that God was definitely on their side.  What’s interesting though, is that the enlisted men did not participate in this offering, as “the men of the ranks had each of them taken booty for himself.”  Not sure what to make of this distinction. Was it because they were poorer than the officer corps?  Or the officers felt they had a higher duty to God?

The Reubeintes and Gadites, being herders of cattle see that the conquered Midianite land is ideal for raising cattle.  They ask Moses if they can settle here and “do not make us cross the Jordan.” (32:6)  Moses sees through this as a fundamentally cowardly attempt to avoid further fighting, “Shall your brothers come to battle and you sit here ?” (7) Worse, seeing these guys sitting there calmly herding cattle would “hinder the heart of the Israelites from crossing into the land that the LORD has given to them?” (13)

How very like us!  We undertake a task and carry it almost to completion.  But a final obstacle remains and we say, Gee, God, this is really good enough, isn’t it?  We’re 90% of the way; surely that will be sufficient.  But it isn’t.  God always asks us to complete the job.

Moses is justifiably angry at these guys: “you have arisen in your fathers’ stead, a breed of offending men, to add still more of the LORD’s flaring wrath against Israel.” (15) The men realize that God (via Moses) is asking them to complete the task for Israel.  They agree that they will fight with the rest of Israel, saying, “We will not return to our homes until the Israelites take possession every man of his estate.” (18)  Moses tells them that if they will go out as the vanguard, he will agree to their proposal to stay on the east side of the Jordan.

The key here is that these men see the error of their ways and repent; they are willing to change their plans.  Not only that, they are willing to be at the vanguard.  Are we willing to change our plans and carry out God’s plans.  Moreover, are we willing to be in the vanguard?

Luke 2:21-32  Luke is careful to explain to his gentile audience the requirements of the Jewish rite of circumcision and naming the child, down to the required sacrifice (two pigeons).

More importantly, Luke makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is deeply involved in this event.  First, he introduces Simeon, stating, “the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Then to make sure we get it about the Holy Spirit as the progenitor of this meeting between the baby Jesus and the old man, Luke tells us, ” It had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (26).  Finally, to drive home his point, Luke tells us that Simeon does not show up randomly at the Temple, but has come there, “guided by the Spirit.”

The presence of the Holy Spirit’s presence is crucial because it validates Simeon’s words, especially the last line, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles / and for glory to your people Israel.” (32).  Luke is clearly telling his Gentile readers that this Jewish baby, who is the Jewish Messiah, has been born equally for them as for the Jews.  

This passage is another of Luke’s hints that the Messiah that the Jews are expecting is not the Messiah who has actually come.  And it is through the infusing power of the Holy Spirit that Simeon realizes this and tells us that this little baby will become “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”  Luke’s story is not about an extraordinary man who came exclusively for the Jews, but that he came for everyone.  


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