Psalm 119:81-88; 2 Samuel 18:1-30; John 10:1-10

 Psalm 119:81-88: One begins to notice that in this long psalm dedicated to God’s teaching and precepts that even prayers of supplication are written and asked in a didactic framework. What begins as a fairly typical supplication–“My eyes pine for Your utterance, saying, “When will You console me?”” (82) is followed immediately by the implication that he deserves rescue because \ he has not forgotten God’s law: “Though I was like a skin-flask in smoke,/ Your statutes I did not forget.” (83)

His enemies are defined not by their intrinsic evil as we find at other psalms, but that they are not following God’s law: “The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me, / which are not according to Your teaching.” (85) And our psalmist seems to be relying more on what God says or dictates than on God Himself: “All Your commands are trustworthy,” (85b). And then the central supplication, “yet I forsook not Your decrees. / As befits Your kindness give me life,” (88a) in order “that I may observe Your mouth’s precept.” (88b)

This prayer for God’s rescue so that the psalmist will be able to continue obeying God’s Law seems strange to us (well, to me anyway) who live under the terms of grace. Yet, we need to remember that following God’s law was the sworn duty, the highest calling, of every person in Israel. Of course, it is prayers like this that led to the Pharisaical outlook that life consisted of observing every jot and tittle of the Law. No wonder Jesus angered them so.

2 Samuel 18:1-30:  Absalom has gone to war against his father in order to usurp the throne. David finally responds but tells his commanders, ““Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (5). The army goes to battle and kills 20,000 of Absalom’s men. But the battle has been fought in a forest of trees with presumably low-hanging branches, “the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.”  Absalom is still alive, but as he rides through the forest on a mule(?) his neck is caught in the branches as the mule rides on. Absalom is left hanging. Joab, to whom the soldier has reported this asks why the soldier did not kill Absalom. The soldier reminds Joab that “in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom!” So Joab kills Absalom himself.

Unaware of what Joab has done, “Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run, and carry tidings to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the power of his enemies.”” But Joab denies permission and sends a Cushite to tell David about Absalom. However, Ahimazz arrives first and says he has good news, i.e., that the rebellion has been put down. David asks ““Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (29) but Ahimazz replies only that he saw a “great tumult” around Joab. David asks Ahimazz to stand and wait.

The author is brilliantly adept at building suspense here. Two messengers: the first arriving with very good news; the second has not yet arrived with very bad news. What will David’s reaction be when he finds out about Absalom? How often have we heard what seemed to be good news only to be followed shortly by bad news?

John 10:1-10: Jesus continues to use puzzling metaphors. John doesn’t tell us, but we have to believe Jesus and his disciples were standing around a sheep fold. Jesus talks about thieves climbing over the wall, but that “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.”  And that the sheep know their master’s voice and follow the shepherd, But the disciples (understandably, I think) “did not understand what he was saying to them.” (6)

So, Jesus becomes more direct: “I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” And “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” And here we have it: Jesus is the single path to salvation. All who would desire life must come through him.

But then immediately that great promise: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10) Here is Jesus’ real purpose for coming to earth: to bring life in every sense of that word. Unlike the psalmist who cries for rescue so he can continue to obey God’s Law, Jesus has come to bring abundant life through faith in him, the Good Shepherd.

I think “life” here has far deeper and greater meaning than just “eternal life” or “if we follow Jesus then we get to go to heaven.” Instead, Jesus is talking about the here and now. We find protection in Jesus–not from the vicissitudes of life itself, but in both the knowledge and reality that by passing through the “gate” that is Jesus we have something far greater than those who believe we are born, live a meaningless life and then just die. For even in difficulties and disease we are protected and will still experience a rich and meaningful life through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

 

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