Psalm 83:1-8; Deuteronomy 19:1-20:09; Luke 8:16-25

Psalm 83:1-8: There is real urgency, a sense of emergency in the opening verse of the psalm: “O God, no silence for You! Do not be mute and do not be quiet, God.”  The doubled intensity of “do not be mute” and “do not be silent” connotes desperation. The following verses lay out the details as to why God had better answer–and answer soon!

They’re not just Israel’s enemies, they’re “Your enemies,” God, who rage and hate, not just against the nation, but against God Himself.  This is real desperation. The Hebrew verse style of repeating the same thought with different wording is used to powerful effect here. Not just rage and hate, but “Against Your people they devise cunning counsel and conspire against Your protected ones.” (3) Again repetition–“cunning counsel” and “conspire against” that intensify each other.

What they have conspired to do is frightening indeed: “They have said: “Come, let us obliterate them as a nation, and the name of Israel will no longer be recalled.”” (4).  It’s almost as if current events in Israel and Gaza have been lifted out of the psalms. The psalmist then catalogs the tribes and nations that are arrayed against Israel: “Edom and the Ishmaelites, / Moab and the Hagrites, / Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, / Philistia with the dwellers of Tyre.” (6,7) And Assyria, too, which has allied itself with “the sons of Lot.” (8).  So, too, 3000 years later. This is why those optimists who somehow think we’re “improving” as human beings or peace can somehow be achieved in that part of the world are deluded, IMHO. Enmity that is three millennia old will not yield to an optimist’s ministrations.

Deuteronomy 19:1-20:09: This chapter is similar to Numbers 35, where the towns of asylum are laid out. Here, the issue is manslaughter, the murderer who “strikes down his fellow man unwittingly and who was not a foe to him in time past,” (4) an accidental death (5).  The reason is to prevent the endless chain of vengeance: “Lest the blood avenger pursue the murderer when his  heart is hot and overtake him [the murderer].”

Moreover, “innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land …and there would be bloodguilt upon you.” (10)  As we examine events in Israel and Gaza the past week, innocent blood has indeed been spilled.  And no one seems to be following the command, which though formulaic, must be repeated over and over with good reason, especially here were we are dealing with emotionally-driven vengeance: “I [Moses] charge you today to do it, to love the LORD your God and to go in His ways for all time,” (9)

The famous formulation, “a life for a life, an eye for an eye, 21 a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.” (21) is a definition of justice that we represent today as the balanced scales of held in the hand of the blindfolded lady.  The message is crystalline: do not over-punish for what has happened. Unfortunately, it has been turned on its head as a call for vengeance. You took my eye? Well, I’m going to take yours.  And probably a bit more. And vengeance escalates because of all that hot blood. Too bad those towns of asylum no longer exist.

The reason for restraint when it comes to justice appears in chapter 20. “When you go out to battle against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, troops more numerous than you, you shall not fear them, for the LORD your God is with you,” (20:1).  How quickly we forget God, or worse, never considered Him in the first place, when His promise stands right here: “the L ORD your God goes before you to do battle with your enemies to save you .”  (20:4)

And with that assurance, our armies can fight the battles with sufficient confidence that we can tell the man who has planted a vineyard or built but not yet dedicated his house to go home and “enjoy it.” Alas, we lack so much faith and trust in God’s promises. Just like Israel.

Luke 8:16-25: Did Jesus really ignore his mother and brothers? Luke doesn’t tell us why they showed up in the first place.  Did they want to share the limelight? Did they show up to tell him his notoriety was bringing shame on the family? Or dod they just want to become part of what Jesus was doing? We don’t know. But Jesus’ words make it clear that he has higher priorities than his earthly family.

Luke doesn’t tell us how the crowd reacted to that statement.  Given the priority of family as the key structural unit in that society and how the honor of family was above all else, Jesus’ reply must have been even more shocking to the crowd than it is even to us.

Jesus is talking about the Kingdom and that those who hear the word and then act on it–just do it–are his new family.  I think we’re too ready to see Jesus’ earthly family and the Kingdom family as mutually exclusive, but I don’t think that’s Jesus point.

I think he’s telling us that it’s a personal decision to hear God’s word and then do.  Our earthly families can’t do it for us, nor by virtue of being a “religious” family does that make us “religious.” I know that while I was raised in the faith by my earthly family, it was not until I was an adult that I felt that I had found my own faith.  Only then did it become mine, not my family’s.

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