Psalm 114; 1 Samuel 20:18–21:9; John 4:39–42

Psalm 114: There is no introduction or prelude to this psalm. The exodus as the national history of Israel and its relationship to God is compressed into four compact lines:
“When Israel came out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a barbarous-tongued folk,
Judah became His [God’s] sanctuary,
Israel His dominion.” (1,2)

Our psalmist recalls the two events that bookend the Exodus: the crossing of the sea out of Egypt and the crossing of the Jordan into Canaan some forty years later: “The sea saw and fled,/Jordan turned back.” (3)

The psalm shifts direction from that we would expect it to take (i.e., Israel worships God) as it celebrates nature’s response to these awesome events: “The mountains danced like rams,/ hills like lambs of the flock.” (4) In one of the most striking rhetorical questions in the Psalms, our poet addresses these four elements [sea, river, mountains, hills] of nature as characters in God’s great play:
What is wrong with you, sea, that you flee,
Jordan, that you turn back,
mountains, that you dance like rams,
hills like lambs of the flock?” (5,7)

Of course there is nothing “wrong.” Our poet quickly answers his question: nature, indeed all the earth, also worships God: “Before the Master, whirl, O earth,
before the God of Jacob,” (7)

Our psalmist makes it clear that it is God, not Moses, who parted the sea and turned back the river—and who produced water in the desert during the 40-year journey: “Who turns the rock to a pond of water,/ flint to a spring of water.” (8)

The psalm ends abruptly here but we this psalm gives us a glimpse of how God is not only at the center of Israel’s national story, but that all creation—even inanimate objects such as seas, rivers, and mountains—worship God the Creator. God is indeed the source of joy throughout all his creation. And we experience that joy when we escape the structures and stresses created by humankind and take respite in God’s pure natural creation.

1 Samuel 20:18–21:9: The (soap) opera continues. Jonathan suggests how he will communicate whether David can come back to court or keep running. David’s friend will shoot three arrows. If they land beside David, it’s safe to come back, “But if I say to the young man, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go; for the Lord has sent you away.” (20:18) It takes a couple of days for Saul to figure out David isn’t coming to the new moon dinner. [BTW, the very fact that Saul is celebrating a notably pagan occasion such as the new moon is an indication of how far he has fallen away from God.]

When Jonathan tells him that David is in Bethlehem, Saul curses Jonathan, telling him that “For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established.” (31) Now we understand the root of the king’s jealousy: he knows that as long as David is alive, Saul cannot establish a dynasty through Jonathan.

Jonathan replies that David is innocent and more furious than ever, Saul flings a spear at his own son. In response, “Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, and because his father had disgraced him.” (20:34) And he runs from the court.

The prearranged arrow shoot clearly communicates that David is in danger should he return to Saul he would be killed. Jonathan sends the boy who collected the arrows away and “David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” (41a) And in one of the most poignant scenes in the OT, “they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more.” (41b) Jonathan gives a blessing to David, swearing eternal fealty: “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, forever.’” (42) And they part.

Now on the run, David “came to Nob to the priest Ahimelech.” (21:1) He and his few retainers are hungry and David asks for bread. The old priest replies that only holy bread is available, but “provided that the young men have kept themselves from women” (21:4) they may have the bread. David assures the priest that neither he nor his men have had sex, “when I go on an expedition; the vessels of the young men are holy even when it is a common journey; how much more today will their vessels be holy?” (5)

Jesus will mention this incident of David and the holy bread when he is accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath by healing people.

David has escaped without weapons, explaining “I did not bring my sword or my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” (8) He asks Ahimelech if he has a sword. In one of those great coincidences we see in the movies, it turns out that the priest has Goliath’s sword “wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod” (9a). David replies, There is none like it; give it to me.” (9b)

The break between David and Saul, which the latter has caused because of his-self-centered desire to establish a dynasty, has brought nothing but sorrow, especially in the relationship between David and Jonathan. It’s a stark illustration of how human ambition corrupts and ruins not just the narcissist himself, but has a profoundly negative impact on those around him. The relationship between Saul and his son has been broken forever.

John 4:39–42: These few verses are the magnificent coda to Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Through this single disgraced woman, whose shame was so great that she would come to the well only when no one else was there, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” (39) This is certainly a clear message to the gospel writer’s audience that Jesus has come to save everyone, not just Jews.

Jesus and his disciples stay in Samaria for two days, “And many more believed because of his word.” (41) What’s significant here is that while the woman’s testimony brought many out to hear Jesus, but it is Jesus’ message—his Word— that brings them to true belief: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (42) Once again, [and for the second time in the Samaria encounter], John is telling us very clearly that Jesus is not only the Jewish messiah, but “Savior of the world.”

I read the Samaritan episode this as John’s version of the Great Commission that we read at the very end of Matthew’s gospel. What’s intriguing here is that John makes it clear that Jesus was Savior even before he died and rose again. In John’s narrative, this encounter demonstrates that it is Jesus as Word that has come directly from God that has salvific power. Yes, his death and resurrection are crucially important, but it is Jesus’ incarnated nature itself in which the power of God so clearly resides.


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