Psalm 103:6-18; Judges 5; Luke 19:11-27

Psalm 103:6-18: The people who complain all the time that the OT God is always angry, taking vengeance, and killing off people would do well to reflect on these verses: “Compassionate and gracious, the LORD, /slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” (8). Actually, I prefer the NRSV rendering, “abounding in steadfast love” to Alter’s “kindness” because I think God’s love is deeper than mere kindness.

A key point in this line is that God is “slow to anger,” and his patience is described again and again in the story of Israel. God waits literally for years while Israel sins and worships its ungods before acting. In God’s patience, I think we see His desperate hope that we will come to our senses and turn back to God before He is forced to act.  And sometimes we do, and thereby enjoy His compassion, His grace and above all, His steadfast love.

“For as the heavens loom high over earth, / His kindness is great over those who fear Him.” (11) This wonderful simile tells us that God’s steadfast love (again, the NRSV’s phrase) is as great as the heavens that are over us, indeed, as vast as the universe.  In those pre-electric lighting days, the stars at night were bright and invoked a sense of vastness that we miss today. And the verticality of the simile–heavens over the earth–tell us that God’s love is everywhere and like the sun, moon and stars, God’s love shines on all of us: saints and sinners alike.

As God’s love is vertically over us, our transgressions, our sins, are horizontally as far from us as we can imagine: “As the east is far from the west, / He has distanced from us our transgressions.” Since the east by definition never meets the west, one cannot even go that far; it is an unimaginable distance. God’s forgiveness separates us from our wrongdoing to the extent that it is forgotten by Him. (However, never forgetting that we must live with the consequences of our sin.)

Why this steadfast love and this forgiveness? Because God loves us as a father loves a wandering, immature child: “As a father has compassion for his children, / the LORD has compassion for those who fear Him.” (13)

Judges 5: Many Bible historians hold that the Song of Deborah is one of the oldest writings in the Bible. This poem is an archetype of poems written after battles, the most famous of course being Homer’s Iliad.

The poem recounts the great victory over the Canaanites and their leader, Sisera, that is recounted in the previous chapter. It is also a poem of gratitude to those who fought:

My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
    who offered themselves willingly among the people.
    Bless the Lord.” (9)

But perhaps most striking is its femininity. Of course, not surprising in a poem ascribed to a woman, but after the battles described in Joshua, which featured only males, we see that women were as invested in conquering Canaan as the men. This comes to the fore as Jael’s heroism is celebrated:

“Most blessed of women be Jael,
    the wife of Heber the Kenite,
    of tent-dwelling women most blessed. (24)

But juxtaposed to this victory is the poignant scene of Sisera’s wife, awaiting a return that will never come:

“Out of the window she peered,
    the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
    Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’ (28)

Even to the point of deluding herself that her husband is taking so long because they are dividing the spoils. The poem does not describe the wife’s reaction when she finds the truth of what happened in the tent; we are left to imagine her horror and desolation.

The poem ends, as we might expect, on a note of triumph:

“So perish all your enemies, O Lord!
    But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might.” (31a)

The fruits of Deborah’s and Jael’s courage are summed up in final verse of the chapter: “And the land had rest forty years.” (31b)

Luke 19:11-27: On reading this famous parable, I think it’s much more eschatological than when we focus solely on the slaves and the return on the talents that the ruler gave them. First, as Luke notes, “ [Jesus] went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” (11). His disciples were sure they were about to immediately enjoy the ample fruits of this Kingdom their leader kept talking about. So Jesus is telling this very hard parable to make it clear that all will not be hunky dory when they reach Jerusalem, nor will the Kingdom be what they think it will be.

Second, Jesus provides a veiled reference to the fact that he will be leaving them with the promise of his return, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.” (11) And that it is the duty of the slaves to continue to work and hopefully reap more than they sew in how they use the resources that they are given.

Third, there are “the citizens of his country [who] hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’” (14). This seems to be a clear reference to the Temple leadership in Jerusalem who will indeed send a delegation to Pilate saying almost exactly what Jesus predicts here they will say.

Finally, the last line of the passage: “But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’” (27) seems a clear reference to a final judgement yet to come.  (And probably one of those verses used down through the centuries to justify oppression of the Jews.)

Of course it’s easy for us to see retrospectively what Jesus is talking about because we know what happened–and what is yet to come. But I’m pretty sure the disciples truly did not “get it”–just as I know I wouldn’t have were I in their shoes.

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