Psalm 18:1–6; Genesis 27:30–28:9; Matthew 10:17–25

Psalm 18:1–6: Rather than the usual terse introduction such as “a psalm of David,” our psalmist gives us the precise setting in which this psalm was sung by David [or, as I suspect the case of most “David psalms,” written much later by another poet to appear it was sung by David].It’s also worth noting that this psalm is essentially the song of David recorded in 2 Samuel 22, which Alter suggests is the older one and the source for this psalm.

Here, in the first verse the poet tells us who, “for the lead player, for the Lord’s servant, for David;” when, “who spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day the Lord saved him;” and what happened, “from the grasp of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” (1)

This translation of the psalm opens with “I am impassioned of You, Lord, my strength,” which is even stronger than the NRSV’s rather reserved, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”  Alter tells us that the word for “impassioned” is used only here in the Bible. I much prefer “impassioned” because it connotes an ardor that is really stronger than mere “love.” It’s easy to talk about “loving God” in the same way we say, “I loved that movie.” But to say we are “impassioned” is to indicate our deepest commitment that makes love all the more real and profound.

The second verse of this psalm includes some of the most famous metaphors in all of Psalms:
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

A rock is also solid and trustworthy, unlikely to break apart. Rocks are things we hide under when we are in deepest danger. But God is not just a safe hiding place he is also an active rescuer. The metaphors switch to military images: shield, horn [as in the horn of battle to signal the troops to attack], and a fortress [“stronghold]. These all provide the same protection as God the Rock.

Verses 3 and 4 tell us that the purpose of this psalm David’s [and our] praise and thanksgiving for rescue: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,/ so shall I be saved from my enemies.” David goes on to describe his dire straits with a metaphor of being bound and trapped with a rope or chains to the point of death: “The cords of death encompassed me;/…the snares of death confronted me.”

In this perilous state, David cries out–“In my distress I called upon the Lord”–and he knows that God heard: “From his temple he heard my voice,/ and my cry to him reached his ears.” (6) In the end, it is the assurance that undergirds David’s cries–and so too for us: if we have the faith of David we know we will be heard no matter our circumstances.

Genesis 27:30–28:9: Esau comes in from his hunting mission, prepares “savory food” and brings it to his father, who now realizes what happened and he “trembled violently.” (27:33) But a blessing is a one time thing. It cannot be retracted and given to its rightful recipient. Esau remembers what Jacob has now done twice to him: “he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.” (36) Again, Esau pleads, “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.” (38) Isaac says that cannot be done and gives Esau a rather enigmatic benediction, which is clearly not a blessing: “By your sword you shall live,/ and you shall serve your brother.” (40a) 

Furious, Esau vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah finds this out and tells Jacob to “flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away.” Here, we see ever-optimistic Rebekah, who has played a key part in the deception, and rather self-centeredly tells herself, “Why should I lose both of you in one day?” (45) Then, she goes into Isaac, who apparently is unaware of her role in the ruse. In one of the great non sequiturs in the Bible, she tells Isaac that she hopes Jacob will not marry one of the local Hittite women.

Apparently convinced by Rebekah that what’s done is done, Isaac blesses Jacob a second time and instructs his son, ““You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women.” (28:1) Instead he is to marry a cousin: “take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.” (28:2) Jacob leaves, apparently never again to see his father or mother.

In the meantime, Esau also marries in the family: a certain Mahalath, who is the “daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael” (8), which would make her his step-cousin.

Why all this drama? It’s clear that the family has been torn apart by each parent playing a favorite–Rebekah to Jacob, Isaac to Esau–and bluntly, Rebekah’s desire to have everything her way. What’s fascinating is that these dysfunctional and broken relationships reveal the same qualities of human nature almost four millennia ago that we see exactly replicated around us today.

Matthew 10:17–25: Jesus continues his description and warning of the high cost of discipleship. One has the feeling that Matthew is editorializing to his listeners here, who themselves have probably endured some of the trials described here. Matthew’s Jesus says, “you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them [the Jews] and the Gentiles.” (18) Which is interesting because earlier, Jesus has charged his disciples not to preach to Gentiles.

Jesus instructs his disciples [and us] on how to respond to these show trials: “do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.” (19) Rather, we are to allow the “Spirit of your Father [to be] speaking through you.” (20) Being a Jesus follower will not just rip families apart, it will cause death, which I suspect Matthew is well aware has already happened among his followers. Jesus warns, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” (21)

Where Jesus said earlier to “wipe the dust form your feet” and move on from those places that reject the Kingdom message, he is now driving home in the starkest terms possible: “you will be hated by all because of my name.” (22a) The clear lesson for us here is that true discipleship is all about endurance: “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (22b)

The question for us in the 21st century is, will we be willing to endure hardship and ridicule as Jesus-followers as American culture continues its inexorable slide away from the shared Judeo-Christian values that once held this country together into the abyss of sheer individualism and intolerance in the name of “tolerance?”

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