Psalm 99; Joshua 21:9-45; Luke 17:11-19

Psalm 99: The psalm opens with a reminder that God is greater and more fearful (in both senses of that word) than we can imagine: “The LORD reigns—peoples tremble, /enthroned upon cherubim—the earth shakes.”  Alter reminds us in his notes that cherubim are not sweet-cheeked little angels but large fearsome beasts with wings, lion’s bodies and human faces. There’s good reason for people trembling before God.  The image of God as a bearded, avuncular old man in a white bathrobe does a disservice to our imaginations–and to our proper resect for God.

And once again we are reminded that justice is atop God’s priority list: “And with a king’s strength He loves justice.” / You firmly founded righteousness, / judgment and justice in Jacob You made.” (4).  God does not merely require justice, he loves it. It is such a tragedy that we, his highest creation, hold such a low view of justice.

There’s a striking reminder at verse 8 that God is at once merciful, but when we sin consequences abound: “LORD our God, it was You Who answered them, / a forbearing God You were to them, / yet an avenger of their misdeeds.” It’s important to note that God “avenges” misdeed. To me, that is not reaching out and striking us down in a quid pro quo fashion. Rather, it is that our misdeed will inevitably have negative consequences–on others and eventually, on ourselves.

Joshua 21:9-45: The final act in the allocation of land and the settling of Canaan, now Israel, is the grant of towns and surrounding land by each of the other tribes to the priestly tribe of Levi, who were to have no marked-out territory of their own: “The towns of the Levites within the holdings of the Israelites were in all forty-eight towns with their pasture lands. Each of these towns had its pasture lands around it.” (42) This gift of towns and land is in fact a form of tithing, a reminder that what we think is ours is really a gift from God, as was all of Canaan to Israel, and that we are really obligated to give a portion back to those who serve God on our behalf.

God really makes good on his promise to the descendants of Abraham: “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them; and having taken possession of it, they settled there.” (43) And it was not a partial delivery; God delivered completely: “Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (45) The question is, do we have sufficient faith to believe–to really believe–that God has completely delivered on His promise to us? The fact of Jesus Christ is ample proof of that.

 And it’s also clear who really conquered the land: “not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.” (44b) Again and again, we are reminded that it is God who fights our battles and conquers our enemies.  I’m sure there were lots of soldiers in Joshua’s army that felt their personal efforts had carried the day.  But in the end, we are reminded, those soldiers were God’s instruments. The very same applies to those of us toiling in the Kingdom.

God has given Israel the land formerly known as Canaan, but in one sense He has given Israel something even greater: “And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors.” (44a) The gift of rest and respite–particularly in our goal-driven, information-soaked age–is something to be treasured. And I am personally grateful for the gift of time on most mornings to be able to sit, reflect, and write.

Luke 17:11-19: There is a very sharp barb barely concealed in this story of Jesus healing the ten lepers.  Only the Samaritan thinks to return to Jesus to thank him. Luke doesn’t have to tell us, but the other nine were certainly Jewish.  Is this story a prophecy of what was to happen in the growth of the church following Jesus’ death and resurrection? Rejected by his own people, it is the Samaritans, the Gentiles of the world, who have responded to Jesus’ healing touch.

Jesus makes it clear again and again that he has come to fulfill the Law, i.e., the Jewish Law. But like the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus in Matthew 15 and reminded him that the dogs eat the crumbs from the table, Luke is telling us that it is “foreigners” who come back and understand what Jesus has done for them. And as we find out in the epistles, Jesus is the cornerstone rejected by his own people.

I also think that we can extend this lesson to the Church at large.  We are all lepers, and even though we have all been healed spiritually through Jesus’ atoning act, we become blasé and careless, forgetting to thank Jesus for what he has done for us. In the church setting, the “foreigners” are often the newest Christ-followers, whose enthusiasm we too easily discount as naive. We mature Christians, blinded by our sophistication, too often forget the magnitude of Jesus has really been done for us.


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