Psalm 80:12-19; Deuteronomy 11; Luke 6:39-49

Psalm 80:12-19: God rescued, planted, nurtured and grew the metaphorical vineyard which is Israel. Continuing the metaphor, the psalmist asks rhetorically, why has God allowed it to be attacked? “Why did You break through its walls / so all passers-by could pluck it? / The boar from the forest has gnawed it, / and the swarm of the field fed upon it. ” (12) The Assyrian army (the boar), attacking from the north (the forest), has consumed the fruits of Israel, both literally and metaphorically.

Supplication follows in the next verses, asking God to come back and see what has been wrought: “God of armies, pray, come back, / look down from the heavens and see, / and take note of this vine,” (14).  And not just “take note” of what has happened, but wreak vengeance (which, as always, is God’s): “burnt in fire, chopped to bits, from the blast of Your presence they perish.”

An unexpected supplication follows as the vine metaphor is abandoned: “May Your hand be over the man on Your right, / over the son of man You took to Yourself.” Is this a christological reference? (“The man on Your right” and “the son of man You took to Yourself”)  If so, it seems oddly misplaced.

Or is it simply a change of metaphor? Israel as vine has now become Israel as adopted son.  If that’s the case, I’m not sure what to do about “son of man,” although I believe that could be a reference to David, as the psalmist longs for the time when Israel was strong and prospered under David’s rule.

The lesson for us is that despite the accusatory tone that God has allowed all these bad things to happen, if He will but rescue Israel, in turn they will always be faithful: “And we will not fall back from You. Restore us to life and we shall call on Your name.” (19)  Once again, the psalm ends on hope in God’s ultimate faithfulness rather than despair.  As should we.

Deuteronomy 11: Moses draws a geographical contrast between Egypt and Canaan. Egypt is flat; Canaan “is a land of mountains and valleys.” (11) which nonetheless flows with milk and honey. (10BUt more important than the agrarian details is the command, which Moses repeats: “My commands with which I charge you today to love the L ORD your God and to worship Him with all your heart and with all your being,” (13)  If they do so, God will reward them: “I will give the rain of your land in its season, early rains and late, and you shall gather in your grain and your wine and your oil.” (14)

If they fail to keep God foremost in their hearts, then all the promises are off.  Once again, Moses warns, “Watch yourselves, lest your heart be seduced and you swerve and worship other gods and bow to them.” (16)  Moses boils all this down near the end of the chapter: “See, I set before you today blessing and curse.” It’s quite simple: there’s “the blessing, when you heed the command of the LORD your God”  and “the curse, if you heed not the command of the LORD your God.” The command being not to worship other small-g gods. (26-28). (Which, given its repetition through Deuteronomy (well, the entire Pentateuch) and Israel’s subsequent history certainly seems to be the commandment that is primus inter pares.

As usual, I’m distressed by the quid pro quo quality of God as Moses describes Him here.  It’s easy to see how Israel came to believe there was a direct correlation between faithfulness and reward–which today is expressed as the prosperity gospel.  However, I’m with Bruce McLaren: God’s qualities are sequentially revealed through the course of the old and new testaments. Yes, God doubtless still possesses quid pro quo qualities, but in Jesus Christ, they have been superseded by grace and faith in Jesus’ transformative work.

Luke 6:39-49: Jesus continues to deal with the qualities and contradictions of human nature. We often think of the “God side” of Jesus looking down on us and talking about not being a hypocrite or just being stupid (“blind leading the blind”) or building our lives on sandy foundations. We’re tempted to say, “Yeah, Jesus, easy for you to say; you’re perfect.”  But then we have to remember that Jesus is fully human and therefore is also talking about himself.  There’s no question in my mind, that he was subject to all the issues he discusses, and that he had to will as a human being not to fall into any of those traps.

I have done all of the things he talks about; setting oneself above one’s teacher; the hypocrisy of “fixing” someone else’s flaws without dealing with our own; failing to preserve one’s good reputation in whatever we do or say (“Fruit) will lack credibility or power; the incredible power of words once spoken to produce good or evil.

Whatever we do, whatever we say, however we act, comes down to the foundation. Absent a firm foundation, we are not prepared for the vicissitudes that inevitably come our way.  We have heard Jesus’ message.  Like the disciples that are listening, will we take it to heart? And not just “to heart” but “to mind” and our whole selves. That is the grand existential question, nay, opportunity.

We have free will: we can choose or not.  Worse, we can ignore these truth and simply drift along never deciding one way or another.  And that is the very defintion of a house built on sand.

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