Psalm 89:30–45; Joshua 5,6; Luke 12:13–21

Psalm 89:30–45: One suspects this psalm was written long after the reign of King David as our poet recalls God’s promise to David, “And I shall make his seed for all time/ and his throne as the days of heavens.” (30) While he is writing prospectively as if David had not yet ascended to the throne, we get the sense that the psalmist has already experienced the corruption of the subsequent kings of the Davidic dynasty. He reminds himself of the terms of God’s Covenant with David, again written as if God were speaking:
If his sons forsake my teaching
      and do not go in My  law,
      if the profane My statutes
      and do not keep My commands,” (31, 32)

The consequences of not keeping those commands are severe indeed: “I will requite their crime with the rod,/ and with plagues, their wrongdoing,” (33) which I assume our psalmist has indeed witnessed. But above all, God remains loyal to David, “Yet My steadfast kindness I will not revoke for him,/ and I will not betray My faithfulness.” (34)

The psalmist continues to write in God’s voice, reassuring us of his faithfulness to all things David: “I will not profane My pact…One thing I have sworn by my holiness—/that David I will not deceive./ His seed shall be forever…” (35, 36, 37a)

But suddenly our poet changes directions returns to his own voice and hurls imprecations to this God who seems to have betrayed his everlasting covenant. “And You [i.e. God], abandoned and spurned,/ You were furious with Your anointed./ You canceled the pact of Your servant,/ You profaned his crown on the ground.” (39, 40)

Worse, the entire nation of Israel has been defeated in battle and has become a laughingstock to its neighbors: “You [i.e. God] turned his forts into rubble./ All passers-by plundered him,/ he became a disgrace to his neighbors.” (41, 42) David’s throne, i.e, his dynastic successors, is ended for all time: “You put an end to his splendor,/ and his throne You hurled to the ground.” (45)

We hear the psalmist’s deep bitterness at God’s apparent betrayal of an eternal contract with Israel through David. But so far he is only bemoaning God’s seeming abandonment as he shakes his poetic fist at a God. The trajectory of this psalm beautifully encapsulates the sense of betrayal that we all feel when it seems God, who has promised to always be with us, has somehow turned the tables and abandoned us—or worse. But like the psalmist here, we do not explore the root causes for that seeming abandonment. We only shake our fist in desperation.

Joshua 5,6: Having crossed over the Jordan, word has spread to the inhabitants of Canaan that Israel comes with a special power and they “heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them.”  (5:1) It would appear that they surrendered to Israel without a battle. Suddenly, God interrupts the action, demanding that every male in Israel be circumcised because the generation born on the road in the wilderness had not been circumcised. Joshua and we presume, the Levites carry out this activity, rendering the entire army of Israel inactive as “they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.” (5:8) Ouch.  They then celebrate Passover in Canaan and “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.” (5:12)

The mass circumcision and the Passover in Canaan is the clear bookend marking the end of the journey out of  Egypt. Israel is now a nation and no longer a wondering people.

In an eerie replay of Moses’ burning bush experience, Joshua “looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand.” (13) Joshua asks if he’s friend or foe, but the person announces himself as “as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” At which point “Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my lord?” (5:14). Once again sandals are removed because Joshua is standing on holy ground. The authors of the book of Joshua are making it clear here that we understand how Joshua has been fully commissioned by God himself and that his subsequent actions are authoritative and indeed those willed by God.

The first action is the unique “battle of Jericho,” of Sunday School fame as the army of Israel marches around the city walls. For the first six days it’s just one circumnavigation with just trumpets. As for the inhabitants of Jericho, I’m guessing there was probably first puzzlement then derision as they laughed at this apparently pointless activity. Lulled into ignoring what was happening outside their walls, they were surely surprised on the seventh day when Israel marches around seven times and then all hell breaks loose as all Israel shouts and the walls collapse.

Only Rahab and her family are rescued as every inhabitant and animal is put to the sword.

So, is the battle of Jericho history or myth or both? That there was a battle is doubtless historical. That it happened exactly this way is more problematic. But regardless, the psychological impact on all Canaan was profound: “So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was in all the land.” (6:27) The stage has been fully set for the subjugation of Canaan by Israel.

Luke 12:13–21: Someone asks Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (13) Jesus refuses the request but takes the opportunity to speak to the issue of greed and wealth. Jesus words had resonance in his day—and even greater resonance now: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (15)

While many of Jesus’ parables are symbolic and puzzling, there’s not much ambiguity surrounding this story of the wealthy man.  His crops produce so abundantly that he decides to “pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” (18) But it is not his wealth that leads to the man’s downfall. It is prideful hubris: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” (19)

But God has other plans in mind, and Jesus makes the point of the story: “‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (20)  Jesus’ moral is simple: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (21)

We are exactly the same as this man. We store up earthly wealth with the plan of retiring to a comfortable life. But when we think we’ve done it all on our own and just as we pridefully review our brilliant investment strategies, life intervenes. Perhaps it’s an illness or some other unforeseen circumstance that puts paid to our brilliance. We ignore our spiritual investments at our own peril.

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