Psalm 119:153-160; 1 Kings 2:1-38; John 12:12-19

Psalm 119:153-160: The supplication continues as the psalmist asks for healing, “See my affliction and free me, / for Your teaching I have not forgotten” (153) although the very abstract “affliction could be physical, psychological or emotional–or all three. As always, the supplication seems transactional; the bargain being “I have not forgotten your teaching, so in return I really deserve to be healed.”

The psalmist then moves to the courtroom, where God is his defense attorney. Given the emphasis throughout the psalm on “precepts” and “statutes,” this is an appropriate setting. We could also presume that God is his judge and the prosecution are those wicked ones, who have fallen away from God’s statutes. The psalmists asks, “Argue my cause and redeem me, / through Your utterance give me life.” (154) Once again his desire is for God to speak.

God is the judge here, and He is also the law-giver, as we have read throughout this long psalm. The images here move from God as teacher to God as author the legal system: “Your statutes they have not sought” (155); “Your laws give me life” (156); “from Your decrees I have not swerved.”  (157); “See that I love Your decrees.” (159) This section ends with God clearly as the legislator of justice: “The chief of Your words is truth, / and forever all Your righteous laws.” (160).

It’s easy to see how many Christians have an image of God as judge and jury rather than God as love. Yet, of course we must deal with the paradox that God is both.

1 Kings 2:1-38: It’s important to remember that these histories were written while Israel was in exile in Babylon and the author is looking back over the history of Israel and Judah and the succession of kings who were less successful in their rule than David or Solomon. On his deathbed, David utters the definition of kingship: “Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” (3) In short, “Follow God’s law and all will be well.”

And then immediately, David utters the fateful words that retrospectively define everything that went wrong: “Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’” (4) Of course, with only a few exceptions, Solomon’s successors did not “heed to their way.”

David issues some final instructions about what to do about various loose ends and Israel’s greatest warrior king dies. Solomon then deals with the various conspirators: some are killed; some are banished. David’s general, Joab, has committed many treacherous acts, not least killing Absalom and his time for rough justice has come as well as “two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah.” (32)

Joab hears they are coming for him, and runs to the altar inside the Tabernacle. Solomon’s chief, Benaiah says to Joab, “The king commands, ‘Come out.’” But he said, “No, I will die here.”” (30).  Benaiah goes back to Solomon, who replies, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause.” (31) The blood guilt of Joab is satisfied, reminding us that while Solomon will create one of the most sophisticated reigns the world had ever seen, the roots of tribal blood killing and revenge, albeit done in the name of God, are not far removed.

John 12:12-19: Decamping form Bethany, Jesus  triumphantly enters Jerusalem. John leaves out all the details about the donkey, saying only, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it;” (14) in order to make sure we know that Zechariah’s prophecy is fulfilled. The disciples finally begin to “understand these things” and John makes it clear that the crowd is the same one “that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify.” (17) John makes it clear that it is the Lazarus event has been the catalyst that allows Jesus to enter Jerusalem safely and triumphantly.

The Pharisees observe, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” (19) At this moment it appears to them, anyway, that this rough-hewn rabbi from the outback of Galilee is taking over. We can only imagine their intellectual despair.

But the Pharisees do not understand crowd psychology and they were not in charge–and to a certain extent, I think John lets them off the hook here with regard to the plot that leads to the cross. There are more powerful men who are not afraid of the crowd that surrounds Jesus–and they will ultimately have their way.

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