Psalm 78:17-31; Deuteronomy 1:19-46; Luke 4:14-21

Psalm 78:17-31: The psalmist continues to recount the history of Israel’s years in the wilderness, but the tone becomes increasingly dark and negative in a series of rhetorical questions.  The problem starts here at verse 18: “And they tried God in their heart to ask food for their gullet.” After all that God had done for them in rescuing them from Egypt, their main concern is their next meal.

Of course this verse has a greater meaning for us: how do we try God in our hearts because we’re solely focused on our physical needs?  Not just food and necessities, but in our tendency to complain and always want more stuff.  Like Israel, we doubt God’s sufficiency and ask bitterly as they did, “And they spoke against God. / They said: “Can God set a table in the wilderness?” (19).  This verse goes to the heart of the matter (and to my heart): My faith is weak; even in the evidence of all God has given me, I still doubt that God can do what he has promised.

Even after God provides water from the rock, our psalmist notes, that was insufficient as far as Israel was concerned.  Give us more they (we) demanded, “Can He also give bread? Will He ready flesh for His people?”” (20b).  “Thanks, God,” we say, “but could you also give us meat in addition to this boring manna?” (And we remember the amusing scene where so many birds dropped form the sky, that even the complainers had their fill…)

Our psalmist continues to recount the incidents in the wilderness, noting “And they ate and were full stated,/ what they craved He brought to them.” God answered their prayers, but they never realized their intrinsic selfishness, “They were not revolted by their craving.” Do I ever think of my various prayers as being selfish?  Am I as clueless as Israel?

Perhaps most depressing of all is where complaining and craving take us: “And they wasted their days in mere vapor / and their years in dismay.” (33) All the time we spend complaining and lusting after still more things exacts an severe opportunity cost.  Whatever time we spend in thinking only of ourselves are “wasted days in mere vapor.”  Time that could have been spent in a closer relationship with God.  And those vaporous wasted days add up into years that we can only look back at in dismay.  This verse strikes at the heart!  How am I spending the time left to me? Complaining? Craving? Or with God, realizing that he fulfills my every need?

Deuteronomy 1:19-46:  This is another one of those days when the theme of the Psalm and the OT reading are remarkably parallel: Both deal with Israel’s complaining, weakness, timidity in the wilderness in spite of all that God has done for them.

Moses exhorts Israel as they are about to enter into Canaan.  He recounts how God has fulfilled His promise and brought them through the wilderness to the Promised Land.  Now, “See, the LORD your God has given the land before you. Go up, take hold, as the L ORD God of your fathers has spoken to you. Be not afraid nor be dismayed.’ (21)

Moses reviews the history of the wilderness journey, beginning with their cowardice when the 12 spies went to Canaan almost 40 years ago. Moses continues with the almost endless list of their and of their constant complaining and rebellion contrasted with everything God has done for them.  We can see Moses pointing his finger at them and saying, “And despite this thing you do not trust the LORD your God,” (32)

There are several poignant notes in his speech.  One is when he announces publicly that it is not he, but Joshua, who will lead them into the promised land.  Another is when he reminds them that the very children they thought would die in the wilderness have become the brave warriors of Israel: “And your little ones of whom you said they will become prey, and your sons who know not this day good or evil, they it is who will come there, and to them I will give it, and they will take hold of it.” (39)

Moses’ theme is the same as the psalmist’s: You, Israel, have not trusted God, who has provided so much for you. Instead you have complained and rebelled.  But now you are finally here at the edge of the Promised Land.  Take heart; remember God is with you.  How little we have changed over the years: we do not trust God and are cowards instead.  Our call is to remember God is with us and it is only through constant faith in God’s sufficiency that we can undertake fierce battles and win them.  In short, faith is the source of courage.

Luke 4:14-21:  [This is the first time I’ve had to write on the same passage that was the text of Kevin Murphy’s sermon the previous day.]  I think it’s important to remember that Luke writes always with his Gentile audience in mind.  Jesus’ reading of Isaiah in the synagogue is the opening text, I think, for everything that Luke will write about what jesus does and what he says between this moment and the Passion.

Luke is making it clear by Jesus’ selective quotation of Isaiah 61 that he has not come as the next Rabbi for the Jews, but to do exactly what he reads–and that is for everyone regardless of their tribe.  But especially for the four categories of people he identifies: the poor, the captives, the blind  and the oppressed.

The poor is self-evident and I agree with Kevin, it’s the poor, not the “poor in spirit.”  Nevertheless, the good news is for all of us regardless of our status.

The captives are prisoners and anyone held against their will. I think this includes addictions, as well, as those in actual slavery and in the sex trade.

The blind, I think, includes all who are ill.  But also the who willfully decide not to see who Jesus is, and what he wants to do for them.

The oppressed are like the captives, but one thinks of those who are manipulated or abused by others, especially in domestic situations.  But also people groups, including Christians in the Middle east.

We could make a much longer list, but Luke seals the deal when Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Not just those listening in the Nazareth synagogue, but all of Luke’s listeners.  Jesus is for all of us.  And in one way or the other we are each and every one of us poor, captive, blind and/or oppressed.  Those are the categories that matter: not our ethnicity or tribe or power or status.

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