Psalm 78:40-55; Deuteronomy 3; Luke 4:31-44

Psalm 78:40-55:  These verses recall what Israel forgot: “And again did they try God,/ and Israel’s Holy One they provoked. /They did not recall His great hand, / the day He ransomed them from the foe,” (41,42) This is an indictment against Israel specifically, but it’s an indictment against us, too.  We too easily forget what God through Jesus Christ has done for us.

We may go to the mountaintop, but once we are back home, we become consumed with the quotidian details of life.  We forget the close communion with God. Pretty soon, we start thinking we’re able to do life on our own.  Occasionally, we remember God, but mostly to complain to Him about His manifest failings to deliver what we’ve asked for.

So, too, with Israel.  So, the psalmist forces them to remember, detail by detail.  He reviews the plagues that led up to Israel’s escape. From the first one, “He turned their rivers to blood,” (42) to the last, “He struck down each firstborn in Egypt, / first fruit of manhood in the tents of Ham.” (52). God brought them through the sea, “He guided them safely—they feared not,/ and their enemies the sea covered.” (53).  And now, “He brought them to His holy realm, / the mount His right hand had acquired,” (53) which would be the foot of Sinai.

This historical review of Israel’s national history at this low level of abstraction is a good lesson for us as we grow older.  How often do I sit down and review detail by detail my journey over the past 50 years (since I graduated from high school.)  Have I taken the time to review where God has been present and how he has acted in my own life to my benefit?

Deuteronomy 3: While it may seem as if today’s psalm is reviewing Israel’s history from Egypt to Sinai in great detail, it is a quick overview compared to Moses’ narrative of all the battles Israel has fought and where and against whom.  As ever, God, speaking through Moses, is deeply involved in the details as he reviews this battle history down to the size of giant King Og’s bedstead, “Look, his bedstead, an iron bedstead,… Nine cubits its length and four cubits its width.” (12)

These details lead to the theme of the chapter, and what is to be the theme of Israel going forward, if they will only listen to, and obey, God: “‘Your own eyes have seen all that the LORD your God did to these two kings. So shall the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross.” (21) God tells them these are not mere stories, but that they have been eyewitnesses to what God has accomplished through them.  Just as we need to recall what God has been able to accomplish through us.

Tougher times are yet to come.  But because we have been witnesses to God’s acts in the past and that girds our faith for the future. Alongside Israel, we must remember, “You shall not fear  them, for it is the LORD your God Who does battle for you.’” (22)  Of course, that requires us to abandon our own agendas and follow God’s.  Easier said than done, I fear.

The chapter concludes with Moses poignant request to cross over into the Promised Land, “Let me, pray, cross over that I may see the goodly land which is across the Jordan,” (24).   Moses says he can’t cross over, not because he struck the rock at Meribah, but because “the LORD was cross with me because of you, and He did not listen to me.” (26).  Instead, Moses blames the intransigent, cowardly, whining people of Israel, who have caused him to lose favor in God’s eyes. But God brushes Moses off, “‘Enough for you! Do not speak more to Me of this matter.” (27)

Notice how Moses deflects the blame from his action at Meribah to the people’s behavior.  God rightly says, Stop whining, Moses.”  I think the editors of Deuteronomy have brilliantly reminded us that even though Moses is the last Patriarch to speak directly to God, he is also very human.  Again, God does great things through great people, but they are not demigods. They have the same human failings as we.

Luke 4:31-44: Jesus returns to Capernaum and exorcises a demon right there in the synagogue (where I have stood!). Unlike the response of the crowd in the Nazareth synagogue, this group’s reaction is quite different, ““What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” 

Luke’s ever-present subtext has to do with the words Jesus speaks and the power with which he speaks them.  While Luke is certainly taking a different approach than John, there’s no question here that Luke clearly sees Jesus as the Word. We see that again later in this section, where Jesus makes it clear that his overriding purpose of ministry is Proclaimer,”“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (43), which Luke underscores by remarking, “So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.” (44). For John, Jesus is the metaphysical Word.  For Luke, Jesus is the active, proclaiming Word.

I’ve never thought much about why the demons know Jesus is the son of God.  I assume it’s because they inhabit that “principalities and power” netherworld. That Jesus was Messiah was simple fact to them.  It’s the humans that are the more difficult case because they keep misinterpreting Jesus, which is why he told the demons to be quiet. Jesus’ task of proclaiming is goig to take some time; it must not be short-circuited.


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