Psalm 110; 1 Samuel 16:14–17:31; John 3:16–26

Psalm 110: The psalmist has dedicated this psalm to King David, whom he serves (perhaps as court poet) and opens with God’s voice speaking a blessing: “The Lord’s utterance to my master: ‘Sit at My right hand/ till I make your enemies a stool for your feet.'” (1) As is almost always the case, the poet speaks of David as warrior-king: “Your mighty scepter/ may the Lord send forth from Zion./ Hold sway over your enemies.” (2)

Our poet continues in this go-forth-to-battle vein: “Your people rally to battle/ on the day your force assembles/on the holy mountains.” (3a) The psalmist is confident that God will definitely remain on the king’s side: “The Lord has sworn, He will not change heart.” (3a) Once again we encounter the deuteronomic idea that God can change his mind at any time.

As if the points of view in the psalm were not confusing enough, now the poet speaks for himself: “You are priest forever. By my solemn word, my righteous king.” (4b) Apparently, David plays a simultaneous role as king and priest. In that sense David is both the new means of governance—king—combined with the old form—priest as judge, e.g. Samuel—God’s representative in the now obsolete theocracy of Israel.

The poet continues, assuring the king that “The Master [God] is at your right hand./ On the day of His wrath He smashes kings.” (5) At this point the psalm becomes quite graphic as it describes David’s upcoming military victory acting as God’s agent: “He [God] exacts judgement from the nations,/ fills the valleys with corpses,/ smashes heads across the great earth.” (6). We can also read that as God himself fighting the battle and smashing heads. Quite a concept!.

The psalm ends somewhat abruptly with the image of God as warrior, hot and sweaty from battle, pausing to take a cool drink: “From a brook on the way He drinks./ Therefore lifts up His head.” Unlike many psalms there are no concluding verses of worship and praise. I think this heightens the warrior aspect of David, as well as God himself.

1 Samuel 16:14–17:31: We return to Saul, who is paying the price for his disobedience: “the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (16:14) [Interesting that the belief of the authors was that it was God who would torment him.] A servant suggests that a little lyre music might soothe his tormented soul. Someone remembers David and asks Jesse to send his son to the court. The already anointed David appears “and entered his [Saul’s] service. Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer.” (16:21) David’s lyre playing is effective and whenever “David took the lyre and played it with his hand, … Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” (16:23) Which I guess is where the Shakespeare drew his line, “music soothes the savage breast” [not ‘beast’].

This lovely intermezzo is interrupted by news that the Philistines are again preparing to invade Israel. This time the Philistines have a not-so-secret weapon, “a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” (17:4) The authors are at pains to describe how the giant’s armor covered every part of his body since this will be an important detail later. I’m guessing there’s some hyperbole here: “The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron.” (17:7) In any event, our authors are at pains to describe Goliath as unconquerable.

Goliath taunts the Israelites to send a man to fight him mano a mano. The stakes are high since who ever wins the fight will be the victor in battle. Three of Jesse’s sons are in the army while young David is effectively messenger between home and the battlefield as Jesse asks his son to carry provisions to David’s brothers at the front. Arriving at the battlefield, David hears Goliath’s challenge. David is informed that the man who kills Goliath will be amply rewarded: “king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.” (17:25) But for David, greater things are at stake here as he asks, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26) Up to this point, no one in the Israelite army has mentioned God.

David’s  brother, Eliab, heard David talking and is p.o.ed that David is not back home taking care of the sheep. He is none too gentle with the younger brother, doubtless envious that David already is popular at Saul’s court, not to mention having witnessed his brother’s anointing by Samuel: “I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.” (28) In a single line that reveals the enmity between the brothers, David testily replies, “What have I done now? It was only a question.” (29)

When Saul hears about David being at the battlefield, he sends for the boy.

This passage is striking because it is revealing two key aspects of David: he is God’s man since he’s apparently the first one to point out that Israel has “the living God” on its side. Also, we learn that David does not hesitate to say what’s on his mind, nor does he fear offending his brothers. All this points to David’s inner courage based on his trust in God.

John 3:16–26: We come to the most famous verse in Christianity: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (16) I think it’s important to point out that this is not just a theological observation, but that John the gospel writer has Jesus utter these words himslef, ensuring that the promise is more true than we can ever appreciate.

The following verse amplifies the thrust of the purpose in God coming to earth: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (17)

I think it’s worth reflecting on this latter verse in light of Jesus and Nicodemus being Jewish. Both were well aware of God’s interventions under the terms of the Old Covenant. Whenever Israel fell away from God and began worshipping small-g gods, God would “come into the world” with punishment for Israel’s wrongdoing. But here at these two verses we see the cancellation of the terms of the Old Covenant. Now God comes to earth as Jesus with a whole new intention: that the world be saved rather than punished.

There’s just one requirement—and this is a big one with our gospel writer: belief. For John, it’s all about believing Jesus is who he says he is: “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (18) Like its predecessor, the New Covenant is starkly binary. Believe or don’t believe. But non-belief is also condemnation. Not because God is set on punishment, but that non-belief is self-inflicted punishment: separation from God.

John returns to his theme of light. Again it’s binary: “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” (20) For Jesus, there are no gray areas. It’s all a question of belief.



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