Psalm 81:6-10; Deuteronomy 13:1-14:21; Luke 7:18-30

Psalm 81:6-10: In a striking shift in point of view, the psalmist yields his poem to the voice of God Himself, announcing, “a language I knew not, I heard.” (6) This is how one must hear God speak. We don’t recognize the voice; not that it is incomprehensible, but it is a voice (“language”) that we have never heard before.  And in hearing, we also understand what God is saying to us.  The psalmist hears and he transcribes what the voice is saying.

God points out that he rescued Israel from slavery: “I delivered his shoulder from the burden / his palms were loosed from the hod.” (7) and that when things were really desperate at the water’s edge, “From the straits you called and I set you free. / I answered You from thunder’s hiding-place.” (8)   God’s point is, I’ve been there all the time listening to you, so now it’s time to listen to me: “Hear, O my people, that I may adjure you. / Israel, if You would but hear Me.” There’s even a note of some frustration (“if You would but hear Me.”)

God is asking one but thing: “There shall be among you no foreign god / and you shall not bow to an alien god.”  One surmises that this psalm was written in one of those periods of Israel’s history when the nation had been seduced over to the usual small-g gods.

The application of these verses is obvious. God has rescued us, now we have turned away, seduced by our very own small-g gods of wealth, power, pleasure, stuff.  Are we listening?  Are we hearing what God is saying to us?

Deuteronomy 13:1-14:21: The focus of this chapter–and indeed of the entire book thus far–is the urgent necessity, nay command, for Israel to avoid putting the ever popular small-g gods ahead of God himself.  While I have no proof, it certainly feels as if the editors of this book were writing and compiling at a time when Israel had turned away from God, and they are using history to remind their contemporaries of the consequences of abandoning God for their small-g gods.

The previous chapter was about tearing down all the places where those gods were worshipped.  This chapter speaks directly to the issue of being seduced by “prophets” of those same tempting but impotent gods.  Do not be tempted to follow! “you shall not heed the words of that prophet or of that dreamer of dreams.”(4)

Whether publicly or privately, Even of that person is a close relative, “your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or your daughter or  the wife of your bosom or your companion who is like your own self incite you in secret,” (7) do not follow!  In true deuteronomic fashion, these seducers shall be put to death.  If there’s a corrupt town, destroy it!  And if you do, our deuteronomic God “may turn back from His blazing wrath and give you compassion, and be compassionate to you.” (18).  In the end, the command is simple indeed: “do what is right in the eyes of the LORD your God.” (19)

And yet we like Israel, refuse in our own pride to do “what is right.”  And we have set up so many of our own small-g gods, some of them right in the Church itself.

This first section of chapter 14 deals with dietary laws, and I presume this is a central reference point for the Kosher laws. What strikes me, though, has nothing to do with that.  It is the lists of animals, birds and fishes by species. It is really an astounding variety and whether consciously or unconsciously, gives us a picture of the fecundity of the land into which Israel came.

Luke 7:18-30:  John, sitting in prison, has heard all about this Jesus, to whom the crowds that once surrounded John are now flocking. He wants first hand info, so he sends two trusted friend to go and get the scoop.  It’s interesting that Luke writes, that John “sent them to the Lord,” rather than “sent them to Jesus.”  I think it’s Luke’s point here to establish the contrast between John, who did many of the same things, and Jesus, who is indeed greater.

The gist of Jesus’ message to John’s emissaries is to describe what he does as reversals, or as scientists might put it, complete state changes: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” (22)  Once again, Luke reminds us how Jesus is turning the world upside down and inside out.

Jesus also uses this opportunity to explain his relationship to John: John is the messenger. He is the Message. Luke also tells us that Jesus has come to rip the world asunder: those “acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism.” (29) And those who had not: “But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”

Which is to say, “God’s purpose” for all of us, and why we are here on earth in the first place, is to  follow God. Exactly the message of Deuteronomy, but now there is a person, the Lord Jesus, right here among us to follow.

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