Psalm 129; 1 Kings 12:25-13:22; John 16:17-33

 Psalm 129: There is an inescapable immediacy to this psalm, which speaks on behalf of the nation of Israel: “Much they beset me from my youth —let Israel now say— much they beset me from my youth,” (11) More than 2500 years later, this psalm is surely being read in synagogues this week following the brutal murders of five people while they worshipped in Jerusalem.

And even in great tragedy, there is assurance: “much they beset me from my youth, / yet they did not prevail over me.” (2) The striking, almost gruesome image–“My back the harrowers harrowed, / they drew a long furrow.” (3)–that suggests a blade being run figuratively through the very body of the nation remembers that “the Lord is just” (4a). And that justice will ultimately prevail against the enemies of Israel as well: “May they be shamed and fall back, / all the haters of Zion.” (5).

Unlike Israel, these nations are ephemeral: “May they be like the grass on rooftops that the east wind withers.” (6) The psalmist does not wish the worst for these enemies, not in terms of military triumph over them, but merely observes that they will pass away because they have rejected God and “no passers-by say, “The LORD’s blessing upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD.” To be without God’s blessing because we have rejected Him leads to only one place: they will wither and blow away.

 1 Kings 12:25-13:22: Now that he’s king of the northern tribes, Jeroboam fears that the people will stay loyal to his rival Rehoboam down in Jerusalem because they go there to worship at the Temple. So he sets up two alternative worship sites at Bethel and Dan using the ever-popular golden calves. He even creates a festival so that people will come there.

A prophet, who is identified only as “a man of God” comes to the altars and prophecies that “son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name” (13:2) who will tear down the altar. Jeroboam is more than unhappy, stretches out his hand saying, “Seize him!” and his hand withers. Realizing the error of his ways, Jeroboam pleads, ““Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, so that my hand may be restored to me.” (13:6) God, through the prophet, obliges and the king’s hand is healed–proving that God is more powerful than the golden calves.

Jeroboam invites the prophet to dinner but the prophet declines saying, ““If you give me half your kingdom, I will not go in with you; nor will I eat food or drink water in this place. For thus I was commanded by the word of the Lord.” (13:8,9a) And the prophet departs. Another, older prophet in Bethel hears of the man of God and invites the traveling prophet to dinner. The man of God replies as he did to the king. But then the older prophet lies and says an angel said it was OK. Hearing this, the younger prophet agrees and goes to dinner. But the older prophet is suddenly seized by the word of God and tells the man of God, “you have disobeyed the word of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment that the Lord your God commanded you,” and therefore, “your body shall not come to your ancestral tomb.” 

So what’s the point of this story besides suggesting there was rivalry among prophets? I think it teaches that if one has the gift of prophecy, one must be careful when discerning the word of God and that absolute obedience is mandatory. The younger prophet was fooled by the older one. The lesson for all of us is practice careful discernment through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is too easy to be led astray!

John 16:17-33: Jesus announcements, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me” and “Because I am going to the Father” lead to sidebar discussion among some of the disciples, wondering what on earth Jesus means. Jesus overhears and “knew that they wanted to ask him,” so he compares what is about to happen to a woman in labor: there is pain now, but joy later. And he tells them, “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  (22)

Speaking, I believe, of his post-resurrection appearance, Jesus says, “The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” (25) And that they will truly believe Jesus is who he says he is, reminding them, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (26)

And then Jesus plainly states what John says in the opening words of his Gospel: “ I came from the Father and have come into the world; again,” But then he appends the core of his message: “I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” (28) At last, the disciples get it: “Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” (30). Jesus reminds them that they will abandon him, but “Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” (31) Then Jesus speaks the words of encouragement that the disciples will remember in the darkest hours and that will come to change their lives forever: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (33)

And words for us to remember in this world that is increasingly post-Christian. We must never forget Jesus’ words to take courage for he has indeed conquered the world!

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