Psalm 6; Genesis 7:11–8:22; Matthew 4:1–11

Originally posted 1/6/2016—edited and updated 1/6/2018

Psalm 6: This particular psalm of supplication begins with a pretty desperate plea:
Lord, do not chastise me in Your wrath,
Do not punish me in Your wrath” (2)

We learn why he’s pleading in the next verse:
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am wretched.
Heal me, for my limbs are stricken.” (3)

It appears he is suffering from some kind of disease and now “my life is hard stricken.” (4a) This is a reflection of the cultural assumption that illness was God’s punishment for some sin of which the sufferer was probably unaware. Not only punishment, but it seems to him that God has simply disappeared–and that absence sounds even more horrific than the disease itself as we read an even more desperate plea:
Come back, Lord, deliver my life,
rescue me for the sake of your kindness.” (5)

He then tries to use logic on God, suggesting that if he is allowed to die, he will be unable to worship:
For death holds no mention of You.
In Sheol who can acclaim you?” (6)

But then he breaks off that line of argument as we can almost hear him writhing in pain to the point of tears,. expressed with rather powerful dramatic effect:
I am weary in my sighing.
I take my bed swim every night,
with my tears I water my couch.” (7)

What up to now has been a strictly personal plea to God, our psalmist, speaking as David, turns toward accusing other people, as it appears his enemies are hounding him in his illness, or worse, they may be mocking him for his weakness:
Turn from me, all you wrongdoers,
for the Lord hears the sound of my weeping.” (9)

But as is always the case in a psalm of supplication, our psalmist realizes that God is indeed present and that God is listening. And his confidence and faith is strengthened in this realization as:
The Lord hears my plea,
the Lord will take my prayer.” (10)

And just to make sure his enemies receive their just desserts, he ends the psalm with a coda that wishes the same awful straits on his enemies as he is experiencing himself:
Let all my enemies be shamed and hard stricken,
let them turn back, be shamed in an instant.” (11)

In other words, “please catch the disease that I have and you’ll see just how bad this is.” Not exactly how Jesus told us to treat our enemies… Therefore it is probably better to read the second half of the psalm as an emotional outburst of pain and frustration rather than a theologically appropriate prayer to God.

Genesis 7:11–8:22: We encounter that Old Testament curiosity for the first time: a date whose details suggest the authors were intent on making it clear the event happened in actual history: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth.” (7:11) Substantial detail follows, especially in the naming Noah’s sons and telling us their wives, as well as Noah’s wife, accompanied by “every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature.” (7:14). Every creature remaining on earth dies and “Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.” (7:23).

Once again, there’s that sense that the authors want to create historic precision with specific time in a specific place: “in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (8:4)  And then again, after the dove doesn’t return, “In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth.” (8:13)

Personally, I very much doubt the actual historicity of this wonderful story. As others have noted, there are flood legends older than this one throughout the Middle East, but only the Noah story speaks of a monotheistic God. In short, Israel adapted this story as foundational to its national identity. By giving it a specific time and place, we see the uniquely Jewish view (for that time) of a linear rather than cyclical sense of time and history—and that Godis not some remote mythical figure, but intervenes in actual space and time.

As we see so often in the OT, the Noah story all about the righteous remnant that is left. I’m sure that the Jews in exile in Babylon, who listened to this story felt that they, too, had been on an ark, removed from their homeland, but with the promise of return. Noah provides a burnt sacrifice (from those 7 pairs of clean animals?) “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind.” (8:21a) That sacrifice made in the open air of a renewed earth must have resonated with the exiled Jews who had seen their temple destroyed, but knew that God would indeed keep his promise to restore them to their land.

What’s odd, though, is the next statement: “for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” (8:21b). Did it really take this long for God to realize that given free will, mankind would always drift toward the wrong thing? One thing is sure: not one aspect about the human heart has changed throughout history. Absent God our inclination will always be “evil from our youth.”

Matthew 4:1–11: As Noah was in a wilderness of water, Jesus is led “by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (1) Matthew makes it clear that there was only one reason for Jesus going to the wilderness. It’s not for reflection or meditation; it’s to be tested. One would imagine that after 40 days of fasting, Jesus was in a substantially weakened  state, so his ability to resist the wiles of Satan’s temptation is all the more impressive.

So why is the temptation story even in the gospels? The threefold temptation makes it clear that while Jesus is indeed God and could easily do any of the things the devil tempts him with, Matthew’s readers–including us– will understand that Jesus is firmly committed to being human, (his later miracles notwithstanding). This is  one of those places where we understand that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human.

As is his wont, Matthew uses scriptural quotations to serve as Jesus’ answer each of the three questions, once again demonstrating to his readers that Jesus is the messianic fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold. What’s interesting of course is that the devil also quotes Scripture at the second temptation:
He will command his angels concerning you,
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (6) 

That Satan knows scripture is  worth remembering when we hear various TV preachers using Scripture to advance their own personal agenda. I’m talking about you, Creflo Dollar, Ken Copeland, and your ilk.

Jesus resists the temptations and in Matthew’s assertion that Jesus has power over evil, he dismisses Satan with a theological wave of his hand:
Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

         ‘Worship the Lord your God,
            and serve only him.’” (10)

The verse that concludes the story, “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (11) is crucial to make it clear that Jesus has nothing to do with the devil who has left him. Even though he will be accused of demonic powers during his ministry by his enemies, we know that Jesus’ encounter with Satan occurred just this one time and that the angels are his servants, making the separation even clearer. Matthew is telling us that whatever Jesus does going forward is of God and God alone.



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