Psalm 132; 1 Kings 15:9-16:14; John 18:1-11

Psalm 132: This psalm recalls the sufferings and tribulations that David, the warrior-king, underwent when he brought the Ark up to Jerusalem. The psalmist ascribes words of relentless dedication to David until that task is completed, “I will not give sleep to my eyes  nor slumber to my lids until I find a place for the LORD,” (4,5).

And the task was accomplished, for now all come to worship: “Let us come to His dwelling, / let us bow to His footstool.” (7).  But this psalm appears to have been written at a time of trouble, as it shifts from remembrance to supplication: “For the sake of David Your servant, / do not turn away Your anointed.” (10) as in an echo of Psalm 119, the poet recalls, God’s Covenantal promise: “If your sons keep My pact /and My precept that I shall teach them, /their sons, too, evermore /shall sit on the throne that is yours.” (12)

If God keeps His promise, then victory and blessing for Israel will ensue: “I will surely bless its provisions, / its needy I will sate with bread. /And its priests I will clothe with triumph, / and its faithful will surely sing gladly.” (15, 16)

But the unstated question in this psalm is, will Israel keep its promise of faithfulness to God? Or more personally, will I keep my promises–even though as a creature of the New Covenant, I am assured that God through Jesus Christ will always be faithful to me.

1 Kings 15:9-16:14: Our historian-author traces the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in parallel.  At last, a faithful king, Asa, reigns over Judah, and “the heart of Asa was true to the Lord all his days.” (15:14) Nor does Asa’s faithfulness to God deter him from warring with Israel to the north: “There was war between Asa and King Baasha of Israel all their days.” (15:16) And he sets up an alliance with the King of Damascus, basically bribing that king to break his alliance with Israel. Which reminds us that there is nothing new under the political sun.

Asa dies of a mysterious foot disease and is succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat. Of whom more later.

Meanwhile up in Israel, Ahijah’s son Baasha comes to the throne. But God speaks to a prophet named Jehu, to tell Baasha, “have caused my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, therefore, I will consume Baasha and his house, (16:2). Baasha’s son Elah begins to reign, but only for two years before a coup d’etat led by his servant Zimri, who assassinates Elah while he was drunk. Zimri takes over as king and “destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke against Baasha by the prophet Jehu.” (16:12)

What’s becoming apparent here is that Israel’s slide downhill seems to be happening more quickly that Judah’s–which of course is what happened. There’s no question that the author of this history had no particular affinity for Israel–and after all, it’s the victors who write the histories.

John 18:1-11: Speaking of betrayals and coups, John’s description of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is as dramatic as the descriptions in the Synoptics. But as usual, there’s a theological emphasis. Here, Jesus initiates the conversation, asking the leader of the group, which includes Judas, “Whom are you looking for?” They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus says, “I am he,” whereupon “they stepped back and fell to the ground.” What does this detail tell us? That they fall down in worship because Jesus spoke with such authority? Are we seeing Jesus both as human and as divine? I think John is showing us that even those who came to capture Jesus saw his divinity, knew in their hearts who he really was, and fell down in awe, if not in worship.

So Jesus asks a second time, “Whom are you looking for?” And they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth” Jesus says rather sternly, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” (8). “These men” would be his disciples. John, ever helpful in his explanations, writes, “This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” (9) Which is what Jesus said at 17:12 in his prayer to the Father. John reminds us once again, that Jesus never went back on his word, nor did he ever utter any words he did not fully intend to carry out. Would that we would be faithful.

Ever impetuous, Peter cuts of the ear of the priest’s slave, who John rather mysteriously identifies as Malchus. We are left to speculate if that slave came to play a role in John’s community and was known to them? Whatever, there can be little question that at this moment of high drama the lives of everyone involved were changed forever. As ours are about to be in what follows.

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