Psalm 119:105-112; 2 Samuel 21; John 10:34-42

Psalm 119:105-112: We encounter the verse I memorized in the 5th grade at Lake Avenue Congregational Church: “Your word is a lamp to my feet / and a light to my path.” In this era of entire Bibles being available on smartphones, there probably isn’t much Bible memorization going on any more. At least there isn’t for me.

But now almost 60 years later, this verse speaks differently. Yes, it’s about God’s word, but it’s the path that resonates. When I was 10 I had no idea of the path that lay before me. Life was potential but it led into the unknown. Now, looking back, I realize what a tremendous role God’s word has played in illuminating the path of my life. Not that I haven’t strayed, especially in my 20’s. But God–and God’s word–have been there as the sure light in my journey.

I can understand why I didn’t memorize verse 109 back in 1956: “My life is at risk at all times, / yet Your teaching I do not forget.” Life turns out not to be the sure thing that a 5th grader thinks it is–in the unlikely event he even thinks about life. Our lives are at risk: not just in terms of danger or disease, but in the temptations that come our way. God’s word is indeed the beacon–the reference point– in the night. Can I say with the psalmist, “I inclined my heart to do Your statutes / forever without fail?” (112) No. Again, the psalmist speaks of something that may be hoped for, but that we cannot make happen on our own. We will indeed fail. But that’s where grace–so absent in this psalm–comes in.

2 Samuel 21: David asks God why there’s been famine for three years. God tells him, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (1) David asks the Gibeonites (who are the descendants of the Amorites) what he can do to make amends and thereby avenge the bloodguilt and end the famine. The Gibeonites demand the seven sons of Saul and David complies, excluding Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, and the “seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.” (9). David the buries the bones of the seven, along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan.

This is one of those puzzling places where we would think that having established the Law, God would not be seeking the blood of humans in order to end a famine. Israel doesn’t seem very different from its pagan neighbors in this respect and God seems to be the perpetrator. Of course, we could argue that this is a preview of Jesus taking on the bloodguilt of all of us, but for me, that’s not a very satisfying position.

The remainder of the chapter deals with fighting the Philistiines. In an eery replay of David’s encounter with Goliath,we are told, “Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. (19) Really? Another giant named Goliath? Only here we get several giants including one with 12 fingers and 12 toes. And David himself seems to have been involved again as “they fell by the hands of David and his servants.” (22)

John 10:34-42: As the Jews around him pick up their stones Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6: “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” Even though the Psalm is not technically “the Law,” and rest of the verse says, “you shall die like mortals” Jesus makes his point using scripture in an unexpected and very creative way, reminding his listeners that “the scripture cannot be annulled” (35) and neutralizing his foes, although they still tried to arrest him, he eludes capture and escapes “across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier.” (40).

As always, and even in this rather exciting incident, John does not miss an opportunity to make a theological point. Jesus says, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works,” (38, 39).  And then John’s key point ,which clearly has a different significance for John’s readers–and us–than it did for the Jews that day: “so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Clearly unconvinced and believing he is persisting in blasphemy, they try to arrest him rather than stone him.  

So, Jesus is saying in effect,”OK, rely on the evidence of the miracles I’ve performed if you guys are still skeptical of what I’m telling you.” But as Jesus says elsewhere, evidence of miracles is insufficient; faith is what’s required. And faith does not carry the day here as John shows us the undercurrents that will lead eventually to the cross.

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