Psalm 103:19-22; Judges 6; Luke 19:28-44

Psalm 103:19-22: The concluding verses to this remarkable psalm remind me of the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The preceding 3 movements are each magnificent, each outlining a memorable theme, just as this psalm has done up to this point. The 4th movement begins quietly, but then four soloists and a choir come in with the word, “Freude,” which means “jo,” softly at first, but building in power and emotion.

And so with this psalm. Rather than “joy,” there is the phrase, “Bless the Lord,” repeated several times. First the “messengers of God”–the angels–are blessed, “valiant in power, performing His word,/ to heed the sound of His word.” (20). Then, we humans, “Bless the LORD, all His armies, / His servants performing His pleasure.” (21) And then, in a resounding crescendo, orchestra, soloists, choir, all of God’s works: “Bless the LORD, O all His works, / in all places of His dominion.” Works: Not just the earth, not just human beings, but all of God’s cosmic creation.

And then one final cadenza, “Bless, O my being, the LORD!” as the psalmist brings this magnificent theme back to himself, exactly where he began the psalm, realizing that he, too, is part of this creation. As we all are. If we but take a moment, stop and reflect on both the majesty and miracle of what God has done for us.

Judges 6: The endless cycle. Following the forty years of “rest” that Deborah’s victory had brought, the next chapter opens with the ever-depressing words, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.”  Now they are desperate, hiding in caves and when they plant seeds it is stolen; they must be near starvation. 

An angel comes, sits under an oak tree, and begins speaking with Gideon, who is threshing wheat in a wine press to hide it from the Midianites. God is speaking directly to Gideon via the angel, who commissions him to “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian;” (14). Gideon protests, claiming he is weakest of a weak family from a weak tribe. But the angel replies, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.” (16)

The still incredulous Gideon goes off and prepares lunch for his guest, which the guest sets on a rock and it burns up, proof enough for Gideon that he is indeed speaking with an angel. This gives him courage to believe what the angel said was indeed true. He takes 10 men and they tear down the Baal altar at night since they were rightfully afraid of the Midianites, who immediately bring their army to put Israel back in its place. But Gideon courageously blows his trumpet and the remnants of Israel’s army gathers for battle.

This all happens before the famous “setting out the fleece” incident and demonstrates not only Gideon’s intrinsic courage, but also his faithful obedience. It’s not like the fleece instilled these qualities in him; he already had them. But Gideon is not naive. After all, he may have just been lucky up to this point. But now the stakes are infinitely higher, and he asks God to confirm what has been promised. And in another example of God’s patience, the fleece is put out twice, and twice God does exactly what Gideon has asked.

For me, Gideon is the example of courageous faith tempered by savvy. God does not ask to be followed blindly. For me, that is the mark that distinguishes a cult from true faith: God gave us brains to ask questions and yes, test Him. Just as a serious walk of faith is a journey of constant seeking, questioning, listening–and observing the evidence around us that God is who He says He is.

Luke 19:28-44: Jesus comes to the gate of Jerusalem and makes his famous entry. The Pharisees are not exactly happy to see him, saying ““Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” (40) Jesus replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  The listening Pharisees doubtless thought that “shouting stones” were mere hyperbole, but there is far deeper meaning here.

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, realizing that the people whom he came to save, represented by Jerusalem itself, are about to reject him and thereby, his Kingdom, which contains  “the things that make for peace!” But tragically, they see only an itinerant preacher who seems intent on upending the status quo and angering the Romans in the process. They think they can get peace by getting rid of this hick preacher from Galilee. But, alas, Jesus and the Kingdom are now “hidden from your eyes.”

History is awash in missed opportunities “hidden from our eyes” that, had they been seized, would have led to far better outcomes. But is there a greater missed opportunity than this one? The missed opportunity of Israel rejecting its Messiah?

Was the destruction of Jerusalem God’s retribution for their failure to recognize who Jesus was? It certainly seems to be what Jesus is saying: “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (44)

The stones would have cried out because the even the stones of Jerusalem knew what the people of Jerusalem refused to recognize. And the rest is history.

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