Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Samuel 19:31-20:26; John 10:22-33

Psalm 119:97-104: Our psalmist comes close to bragging about his wisdom and understanding compared to others, although he makes it clear it is because “I loved Your teaching” (97) and he has stuck to it: “All day long it was my theme.” (97) He outlines the results of that dedication:

98 Your command makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is mine forever.
99 I have understood more than all my teachers
for Your precepts became my theme.
100 I gained insight more than the elders
for Your decrees I kept.

He asserts that he is wiser than his enemies, understands more than his teachers and has greater insight than his elders. Then, he goes on to say that he has not succumbed to temptation, “From all evil paths I held back my feet” (101), and “From Your laws I did not swerve.” (102).

But before we accuse him of lacking humility, he gives all the credit to God’s “precepts and decrees.”  Further, I think we need to view this section less as braggadocio (although there is certainly some of that), but more as a list of his objectives. Our psalmist is human and surely knows he is fully capable of failure and “swerving from Your laws.”

In short, our psalmist may not have achieved this state permanently, but recognizes that each day requires a renewed commitment. Or, at least that’s how I need to read this. Who knows, perhaps our psalmist achieved this exalted state. But for me, it continues to be a daily struggle–and a daily discipline.

2 Samuel 19:31-20:26: David shows great kindness to 80-year old Barzillai, asking him to come to Jerusalem. But Barzillai demurs and asks to meet the king “a little way over the Jordan.” David crosses the river, kisses and blesses Barzillai, who then returns home. Then David “went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him; all the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel.” (40). But the people of Israel complain, ““Why have our kindred the people of Judah stolen you away,?” (41) Now, there’s an argument between the people of Israel and the people of Judah, “But the words of the people of Judah were fiercer than the words of the people of Israel.” (43).  And here. as early as David’s time we see the first signs of what eventually became the split between Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, the Southern Kingdom.

The split becomes visible when “a scoundrel named Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite,” exploits the disagreement and “all the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri; but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.” (20:2)

War breaks out; there is an unpleasant scene between the Army’s commander, Joab, and Amasa, who has dilly-dallied in gathering the troops, causing David to observe, “Now Sheba son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom.” (20:5) Joab eviscerates Amasa for his treachery, and the Army goes to war. But before lots of killing happens, “a wise woman called from the city” to Joab, who tells him that they will toss the head of the traitor Sheba over the city wall. She talks the leaders of the city into her plan, they toss Sheba’s head over the wall and a battle is avoided. But only barely.

It’s fascinating that in this story it’s the men who rashly want to go to war, but it is a “wise woman” who avoids needless bloodshed. And once again, we have a Biblical example of female wisdom and leadership.

John 10:22-33: The Jews in Jerusalem have had enough of Jesus’ obscure speeches. “So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”” (24). Jesus responds, “I have told you, but you do not believe.” (25) and then says, “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (26) He tells them that his sheep follow him “because they know my voice.”  It’s one thing to be accused of not being a “believer” but then he really enrages the crowd with the phrase, “The Father and I are one.” (30)

This is blasphemy and they prepare to stone Jesus. His defense is simply “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” But the Jews reply they are stoning him for blasphemy rather than his good works. This is a classic case of people holding so closely and firmly to “right theology” that they ignore the good that Jesus has brought into the lives of so many. Law must trump grace.

We are exactly the same today: we hold orthodoxy as the greatest good, too often ignoring the good that has been done in Jesus’ name. For example, when we claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality and then we exclude these folks form fellowship, we are picking up the same stones as those Jews in Jerusalem. It is hewing to entrenched theology rather than showing mercy and grace that has given Christianity so much of its negative reputation today.

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