Psalm 101; Joshua 23:1-24:13; Luke 17:26-37

Psalm 101: This psalm’s superscription says “a David psalm,” and although there’s nothing in it that ties the psalm directly to David, it’s reasonable to read it as the king’s interior thoughts about God’s “kindness and justice” (1), the qualities of the good and evil people over whom he reigns, and what he will do to those who commit evil acts.

Before he can speak of others, though, he must be pure himself: “I shall not set before my eyes / any base thing. / I hate committing transgressions. /It will not cling to me/” (3) There’s something interesting happening here: David says to himself, “May I not know evil.” (4) In other words he reflects consciously about the necessity of avoiding evil. I consider myself a “good” person, but I rarely consciously think about evil or my need to avoid it as David does here. Bringing this thought to the forefront of our minds creates a keener awareness of our decisions and actions–and makes it easier, I think, to avoid committing evil acts.

After self-reflection, David then turns his attention to persons around him, first vowing destruction on those who defame others (5). People who post hateful messages on Facebook, or conduct “Twitter wars” would do well to consider these words.

And then his abhorrence of that greatest sin, pride: “The haughty of eyes / and the proud of heart, him shall I not suffer.” (6) As others do not “suffer fools,” so we should not “suffer the prideful,” but remove ourselves from their presence. Same for liars: “A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes.” (7)

We may not be able to do what David vows as king, “Each morning I shall destroy all the wicked of the land,” (8) but we can avoid these sins ourselves, and avoid being in the presence of those who commit these sins.

Joshua 23:1-24:13: Like his predecessor, Moses, Joshua after many years of rest gives a valedictory speech to all Israel. It reminds the people how much God has blessed them in giving them this bountiful land, and reminding them to hew closely to God: “Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left.” (6) and reminding them all that God has done for them: “For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations; and as for you, no one has been able to withstand you to this day.” (9)

But it is also laced with dire warnings should the people indeed look to the right or left, “the Lord will bring upon you all the bad things, until he has destroyed you from this good land that the Lord your God has given you.” (16)  That will happen “If you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he enjoined on you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them.”  As always, the major sin is turning from God to the ungods.

In the final chapter of this book, Joshua gives a brief history of Israel, harking all the way back to Abraham, reminding them of all that God has accomplished for them, reviewing in particular detail the battles Joshua fought with them and a long list of the peoples that were conquered: “When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; ” (11) Israel has much to be thankful for.

But there is one all-important thing to remember, “ it was not by your sword or by your bow.”(12)  God has accomplished all this through them, but it was not their own doing. The final verse of this book says it all: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.” (13) This is a good verse to reflect on when we finish a task, look at what’s been accomplished and think it was solely our doing.  We, too, eat of the fruit of the vineyards which we did not plant. For what we “accomplish” in our lives is God’s, not our alone.

Luke 17:26-37: Jesus continues his apocalyptic speech, describing what will happen “in the days of the Son of Man.” (27).  It will not be a pretty sight as he compares it to the Flood and the last day of Sodom. Whatever happens, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (33) The clear message: do not put your trust or security in worldly goods, position or deeds. Only by surrendering ourselves, our ego, and above all, our control wholly–losing our lives–to God will we ultimately be saved.

The final verses here–“on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.”(35) provide the primary biblical source for those who believe Christians will be “raptured” into heaven. I personally think Jesus is only saying that there are two classes of people referred to above: those who trust in the world and those who trust in God and he is illustrating his point, not predicting a specific future event. 

I’m actually more intrigued by the final verse: “Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (37) The question is, what is the corpse and who is the vultures?  One possibility is that the corpse is Israel, which is in the process of rejecting he whom God sent to them. The “vultures” is sometimes translated as “eagles,” which was the symbol of the Roman army. Is this a prediction of Israel’s ultimate destruction by Titus? Perhaps. But it could easily mean other things, as well. As always, we need to be careful and avoid over-interpretation.

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