Archives for September 2016

Psalm 105:37–45; Judges 20:1–31; Luke 22:52–62

Psalm 105:37–45: Our psalmist points out that all the Israelites successfully departed Egypt with riches: “And He brought them out with silver and gold,/ and none of His tribes did falter.” (37) Interestingly, rather than focus on Egypt’s pursuit and the incident of crossing the sea, the emphasis here is on the relief of the Egyptians: “Egypt rejoiced when they went out,/ for their fear had fallen upon them.” (38)

The scene shifts to the wilderness and events that occurred there. First, there is God’s protection and guidance: “He spread a cloud as a curtain/ and a fire to light up the night.” (39). Manna is mentioned, along with the quail incident, as the poet makes sure to note that the people asked for the quail: “They asked, and He brought the quail,/ and with bread from the heavens he sated them.” (40) God gave them water as “He opened the rock and water flowed.” (41). God did all these deeds for Israel because, as the poet reminds his listeners, he kept his side of the Covenant: “For He recalled His holy word/ with Abraham His servant.” (42)

Our poet leaps from the departure from Egypt—”And He brought His people out in joy” (43)—right over the 40-year wandering in the desert—to the arrival and allocation of land, the victories and the spoils in Canaan: “And He gave them the lands of nations,/ they took hold of the wealth of peoples.” (44)

But as always, there is Israel’s covenantal obligation of obedience in return: “so that they should keep His statutes,/ and his teachings the should observe.” (45) And that is a cause for rejoicing, a single excalmation concludes the psalm: “Hallelujah!

The overall thrust of the psalm is for Israel to reflect on all that God has so wondrously done for them and the only obligation in return is obedience to the laws that God has set out. Which as we know too well was mostly observed in the breech. So too for us. While we may not identify with the historical events of Exodus, this psalm is a call for us to reflect on own exodus: Jesus Christ has rescued us from ourselves. As the psalmist concludes, that is a cause for Hallelujah!

Judges 20:1–31: Despite its gruesomeness, the Levite’s act of sending 1/12th of his concubine’s body to each of the other tribes of Israel has the effect he intended—and then some: “The chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot-soldiers bearing arms.” (2) The first thing everyone wants are the details, which the Levite provides them: “The lords of Gibeah rose up against me, and surrounded the house at night. They intended to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she died.” (5)

The Levite asks the leaders what they want to do and vengeance is on their minds. They “are going to repay Gibeah of Benjamin for all the disgrace that they have done in Israel.” (10) The first act is to send messengers “through all the tribe of Benjamin,” (12) asking that the Benjamites “hand over those scoundrels in Gibeah, so that we may put them to death, and purge the evil from Israel.” (13) But the Benjamites refuse, and put together an army of 26,000 in addition to the population of Gibeah. The authors add a side note: “Of all this force, there were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss.” (16)

The authors, obviously from Judah, make sure we know that the Israelites “inquired of God, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?” God replies, “Judah shall go up first.” (18)

The battle does not go well; the Benjaminites appear to have the upper hand in this civil war: 22,000 men of Judah are killed on the first day of battle. Discouraged, they pray and “the Lord said, “Go up against them.” (21) 18,000 Israelites died the second day. They return to camp where the Ark is and pray again. This time, God tells them,“Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” (28) Things seem to go much better. The Benjaminites are drawn away from Gibeah by a feint and  begin to inflict casualties.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s reading to learn the exciting outcome of this unfortunate battle.

What we learn here is that civil wars are as inevitable as those fought against an external enemy. While certainly not as horrific, there’s no question that we in the church continue to fight our own civil wars.

Luke 22:52–62: As he is being arrested, Jesus asks the temple police why they have insulted him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?” (52) Reminding them of their cowardice, Jesus points out, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me.” (53a) Perhaps more significantly, Luke’s Jesus essentially says they are agents of Satan’s power: “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” (53b) Again, we have a clue that Luke sees the trial and crucifixion as more than the work of disgruntled temple officials who feel threatened. There are deeper, darker spiritual powers at work here.

One of the saddests passages in the gospels is Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus. At Peter’s third denial, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” (60) the cock crows. Then, in a mere seven words Luke limns one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in his gospel: “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (60) At that moment Peter realizes what had happened. But this is much more than his memory. Jesus has looked at him and he realizes not only the enormity of his failure but the emptiness of his promises.

Peter’s denial is so powerful for us because in our hearts each of us knows that we would do exactly the same thing as he. How many empty promises have I made to Jesus only to fail to keep them? Jesus doesn’t have to say anything; he only has to look in my direction and the magnitude of my failure is amplified a hundredfold. Just as it was for Peter who “went out and wept bitterly.” (62)

Psalm 105:23–36; Judges 19; Luke 22:39–51

Psalm 105:23–36: Our psalmist recalls the time in Egypt: “And israel came to Egypt,/ Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.” (23) ‘Jacob’ of course is the poet’s device to not repeat ‘Israel’ in the next line, since his listeners would understand that all Israel descended from that patriarch. The ‘land of Ham’ is Egypt, where it was believed Noah’s son migrated following the flood. Israel’s fecundity soon outpaces Egypt’s: “And He [God] made his people very fruitful,/ made the more numerous than their foes.” (24)

This population growth creates a deadly transformation among the Egyptians as they feel outnumbered and threatened: “He changed their heart to hate His people,/ to lay plots against His servants.” (25) Here’s another proof that humanity has changed not a whit in 4000 years. Like the Egyptians, many Americans feel threatened by immigrants, especially from the south, and often complain that they come here and ‘multiply like rabbits.’ The other interesting aspect of this verse is that for the poet, it is ‘He,’ i.e., God who changes the hearts of the Egyptians from tolerance to intolerance.

Moses and Aaron arrive on the scene, “whom He [God] had chosen.” (26) The plagues come, and it is through Moses and Aaron that God initiates them: “They set among them the words of His signs,/ His portents in the land of Ham.” (27) Notice here that the poet describes the plagues as “words of His signs.” The plagues are not just random events, but are direct communication—words—from God.

The psalmist goes on to list each plague: darkness, the bloody Nile, the frogs, lice, hail, locusts. These are not listed in the same order as they are in Exodus and the psalmist omits the plague of dead cattle and skin ranch. Nevertheless, he makes his point quite clearly. The the final plague: “He struck down each firstborn in their land,/ the first yield of their manhood.” (36)  The phrase ‘first yield of their manhood’ is evocative of the idea of men planting seeds and reaping the harvest of “their manhood.” Women are nowhere to be seen and receive no credit for the birth of Egypt’s firstborn males.

Judges 19: This is one of the darkest most disturbing chapters of Israel’s history involving oppression of women, homosexual sex, rape, murder, and a gruesome ending. The story opens with Levite (the same one as in the previous chapters perhaps?) who has a concubine. The “concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah.” (2). Our narrators describe him as her husband, who loves his concubine deeply. After four months heads to Bethlehem and “to speak tenderly to her and bring her back.” (3). The woman’s father is overjoyed to see the Levit and provides seemingly endless hospitality to him. Even when the levite attempts to leave with the woman, her father inveigles him to stay.

After a few more days, the Levite, the woman, and his servant depart. They come to Jerusalem and servants recommends they spend the night. But the Levite refuses, rather testily telling the servant, “We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel.” (12) Rather than mingle with aliens, he’d rather go to Gilbeah, where the Benjaminites live.

They arrive in the city square, where the custom was for travelers to wait, hoping someone would show hospitality and invite them in for the night. Giving us a clue of the attitudes at Gibeah, no one invites them in until an old man comes in from the fields. In a hint that he knows something evil is afoot, the old man advises them, “do not spend the night in the square” (21) and brings them into his home.

Suddenly in a scene that seems to be ripped out of the pages of Genesis where Lot is staying in Sodom, “the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door.” (22a) They demand that the host send the Levite out into the street “so that we may have intercourse with him.” (22b) The host refuses but instead sends out his virgin daughter as well as the Levite’s concubine, whereuopn the men in the streetrape both and leave the concubine for dead at the doorstep.

The Levite finds “his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold” and commands her to get up. But she is either unconscious or dead, (the authors don’t tell us) so he loads the woman on the donkey and goes home. By the time she gets home, she is clearly dead. The Levite hacks her body into 12 pieces and arranges to have each piece sent as a gruesome message to the leaders of the other twelve tribes: “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.’” (30)

The irony of this ugly story is that the man probably would have been better off staying in Jerusalem full of foreigners than at Gibeah, where unspeakable evil abounded among the Israelites themselves. I suspect consequences of this heinous act of rape and murder will shortly ensue.

The even more disturbing thing to me is that women were seen as having no value other than as sexual objects. While some may interpret this story as an example the evils of homosexuality, for me, there is the far greater sin of treating women as mere property of little value. Even when the Levite sees his concubine lying at the doorstep he roughly tells her to “Get up.” We do not see a scintilla of love or concern for the woman whom the Levite apparently loved—but not enough to have told the host not to send her out into the street or to treat her tenderly.

Luke 22:39–51: Following the meal, Jesus and the disciples head out of the city to the Mount of Olives where Jesus tells them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (40)—a clear hint that the end he has been predicting for himself will come sooner rather than later.

Luke does not tell us that they were at Gethsemane, only that Jesus “withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed.” (41) Luke’s transcript of the prayer is brief: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (42) And he provides the detail not found in the other synoptics that “an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength” (43) and that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (44) This last detail says only that the sweat became like “drops of blood,” not the popular image that Jesus was literally sweating blood.

When Jesus is done praying he comes upon the disciples “and found them sleeping because of grief.” (45) This interesting detail suggests that the disciples had finally figured out that the party was over and there was a very real chance of losing their leader. Perhaps Jesus finally got through to them that he was not there to foment a political revolution but that instead his earthly ministry and activity was about to come to an abrupt end. This latter point is emphasized when Jesus repeats the same thing he said earlier, “Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (46)

Judas and the temple police appear. Unlike other accounts, Judas does not kiss Jesus but Jesus calls him out first, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (48). Luke’s irony is on full display here. He then tells us that “those who were around him saw what was coming.” Finally! They get it!

An unidentified disciple reaches for a sword and cuts off a slave’s ear. Making it clear that what is about to happen is not going to be a conventional rebellion, Jesus says, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” (51) This is Jesus’ last public act of healing. In the end it is Luke’s clear message that it is Jesus’ compassion, not weaponry, that will be the engine of the revolution to come.

Psalm 105:16–22; Judges 18; Luke 22:24–38

Psalm 105:16–22: Our psalmist relates the story of Joseph opening with the God-created famine that sent Joseph’s brothers down to Egypt: “And He called forth famine over the land,/ every staff of bread he broke.” (16). Then, the poet leaps back in time, only implying the evil act of his brothers as he focuses solely on Joseph: “He sent a man before them—/ as a slave was Joseph sold.” (17)

The poet leaves out the details of the story than landed Joseph in prison, focusing instead on his suffering: “They tortured his legs with shackles,/ his neck was put in iron.” (18) Poetic necessity leaves out the details of how Joseph was freed, making it clear that Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and his ultimate freedom was strictly God working through Joseph : “until the time of his [Jospeh’s] word had come,/ the Lord’s utterance that purged him.” (19)

Ultimately, Joseph is freed by Pharaoh, who “made him master of his house/ and ruler of all his possessions.” (21) Joseph was so exalted that he could “admonish his princes as he desired/ and to teach wisdom to his elders.” (22)

As the psalmist tells it, the Joseph story is a foreshadowing of the Exodus story: from slavery to honor. Which is exactly what is to come to pass in the future. And of course, the ascent from slavery to honor, from imminent death to new life, is our story as well: we are freed from being imprisoned by our own will through the power of Jesus Christ.

Judges 18: As the authors keep reminding us, “In those days there was no king in Israel.” (1). Apparently in the complicated allotments of tribal territory, no land was given to the tribe of Dan. However, it appears by context that the Philistines had pretty much taken over the territory originally given to Dan. So the danite leaders send “five valiant men…to spy out the land and to explore it.” (2) The unstated objective of course is to scout out new territory for the tribe.

Via a coincidence that we usually see only in the movies, the five men come to the house of Micah where “they recognized the voice of the young Levite,” and ask “What is your business here?” (3) The unnamed Levite replies that he’s employed by Micah as his priest. Apparently the Levite is still loyal to God rather  than the silver household idol since the visitors ask him to “Inquire of God that we may know whether the mission we are undertaking will succeed.” (6). The Levite assures them that God is watching over them and they proceed on their way.

So, is the elaborate Micah and the Levite story of the previous chapter merely a setup for this encounter? Or are the authors telling us that the Levite remained loyal to God even though the priest was hired into the household where other gods were worshipped? Assuming that the book of Judges was written during the Babylonian captivity, the larger meaning could be that even though they are in a pagan land, they can still remain loyal to—and obey—God.

The five men arrive at Laish where they observe people living “quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth, and possessing wealth.” (7) Unlike Moses’ spies all but two of whom who returned fearful, these spies return to the Danite leaders recommending that they “enter in and possess the land.” (9) So, 600 men set out and, yes, arrive at the house of Micah.

The five spies enter the house and “took the idol of cast metal, the ephod, and the teraphim.” (18) They then talk the priest into coming with them by pointing out, “Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one person, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” (19)

Micah realizes what’s happened, and overtakes the Danites, who ask him what his problem is(!) Micah replies why they’re taking his idols and his priest, but the danites warn him, “You had better not let your voice be heard among us or else hot-tempered fellows will attack you, and you will lose your life and the lives of your household.” (25) Micah, knowing he is outnumbered, relents and returns home now idoless and priestless.

The Danites go on to conquer the hapless folks at Laish, “to a people quiet and unsuspecting, put them to the sword, and burned down the city.” (27) who had “no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram.” (28) But rather than worshipping God who apparently allowed them to conquer these unsuspecting people, “the Danites set up the idol for themselves, [and employ] Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity.” (30) So, apparently the Levite was Moses’ grandson.

So, why are the authors relating this detailed story of a tribe that ends up killing a gentle folk and worshipping an idol? Is it a moral lesson? The Danites have been completely successful, but they are also heretical. This story is disturbing at best.

Luke 22:24–38: Despite Jesus’ many statements that the Kingdom of God is not a political power, the disciples apparently still believe that Jesus will establish a traditional earthly kingdom. “A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (24) Rather than chastising them for their obdurate stupidity, Jesus uses the dispute as a teachable moment to speak about the qualities of servant leadership—something he’s already hinted at when he said “the first shall be last.” Jesus speaks ironically of himself, saying “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” (26) In other words, a true leader must first be a servant. He points out that although he is the greatest among them, “I am among you as one who serves.” (27)

But Jesus is kind when he could of been harsh and rather than chastising, he tells them, You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom.” (28, 29) and that eventually, “you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (30)

Jesus directs his words to Peter, who has sworn undying fealty to Jesus, and makes the famous prediction, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” (34) Unfortunately, Luke does not indicate what happened next. Did Peter protest again or was he silent? I think that for the first time in the years he’s been with Jesus he was struck dumb.

Jesus implies that things are about to change drastically. When before he sent them out “without a purse, bag, or sandals” they did not lack for anything. However, now a battle will begin and the disciples must be prepared to fight: “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.” (36)

In a very clear statement that he is not rising to political power, Jesus states that will soon be treated like a criminal by quoting Isaiah, “this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” The disciples are seemingly ready to fight, when they “said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” Two swords are insufficient to win an earthly battle, but as Jesus points out, for the Kingdom of God, two swords are ample—as we will shortly see.

Psalm 105:8–15; Judges 16,17; Luke 22:14–23

Psalm 105:8–15: At this point our poet launches into one of the most detailed histories of Israel that we find in the Psalms. Just as God recalls exactly what has happened across the ages, the psalmist will provide the same service for his listeners: “He recalls His pact forever—/ the word He ordained for a thousand generations—” (8) The ‘pact’ of course is the covenant which God “sealed with Abraham,/ and His vow to Isaac,/ and He set  it for Jacob as a statute,/ for Israel…” (9, 10)

The psalmist then proceeds to tell us exactly what God’s promise was: “to you will I give the land of Canaan/ as the plot of your estate,” (11). Interestingly, he does not mention Israel’s side of the Covenant, which is to worship only God and obey his commands.

Our poet reaches back in time to “when they [Abraham’s descendants] were a handful of men,” (12a) and implies their precarious state because they were “but a few, sojourners there.” (12b). This beautiful verse nicely parallels what’s written in Peter’s epistle about Christians being only aliens and sojourners in the world.

The early wanderings of this small band, such as the time , are implied in the next verse, emphasizing the idea of being wandering aliens among well-rooted tribes: “And they went about from nation to nation,/ from one kingdom to another people.” (13) In these early days God was their protector and “He allowed no man to oppress them/ and warned kings on their account.” (14) Who are these kings? One of them was doubtless Pharaoh, who was punished with “great plagues” because he took Sarai “into his house” and doubtless has his way with her when Abraham went to Egypt because of famine in Canaan (Genesis 12).

Our poet emphasizes this aspect of God warning other kings and tribes with God saying, “Touch not My anointed ones,/ and to my prophets do no harm.” (15) Which when we think about it is exactly what God did from the time of Abraham through Joseph. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this statement applies equally to Israel in captivity in Babylon, which is probably around the time this psalm was written.

Judges 16,17: The story of Samson and Delilah involves sex, lies, betrayal, imprisonment, torture, and an exciting climax, so it’s no wonder Hollywood has been exploiting this passionate story for so long.

After Samson demonstrates his bona fides at Gaza by pulling up the city gates and carrying them to the top of a hill, “he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.” (16:4) The Philistines are anxious to know the source of Samson’s strength, so that “we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him” (5). Delilah agrees for the price of 1100 pieces of silver. [Interesting how money involved in Biblical betrayals seems to be ‘pieces of silver.’]

Samson seems to know her game and he lies to her, saying, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” (7) That doesn’t work and an angry Delilah asks again. This time, Samson tells her to bind him with new rope.  Delilah shouts “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!…but he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.” (12) Delilah’s third effort involving, but not cutting, his hair fails as well.

But Delilah is nothing if not relentless and she nags Samson to the point where he finally reveals his secret. We know the rest of the story: Samson is captured, blinded, made into a slave, grinding at the prison mill as his hair grows back. Brought into as entertainment at a party attended by 3000 people, Samson “called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” (28) Which he famously does.

So why is this obviously unhistorical story in the book? Because it’s a ripping good yarn. But as an explication of the theology of betrayal and revenge it’s pretty marginal. For me, the main lesson of Samson is that even at our weakest, God is the source of our strength if we have abandoned all other pretences and come to him in the humility of the blinded Samson.

There must be something symbolic about 1100 pieces of silver because we encounter the same amount again in the story of a certain Micah [obviously not the prophet of the eponymous book later in the OT], who has come into possession of the same 1100 pieces taken from her earlier and which she cursed. Perhaps the unnamed mother is the widowed Delilah. The son returns the silver to his mother, who promptly uses 200 of the metal to have an idol “of cast metal” for her. The son “had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim, and installed one of his sons, who became his priest.” (17:5) Our authors drily note, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (17:6)

A young Levite from Bethlehem(!) is in the neighborhood. Wandering from city to city looking for work, he agrees to take on the priest job when Micah promises him “ten pieces of silver a year, a set of clothes, and your living.” (10) The Levite agrees and the story ends as Micah utters some really bad theology, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.” (13)

Why is this story of a Jew making an idol and then hiring a Levite as the idol’s priest in here? I think the authors wanted to provide a close-up view of just how easy it was for the Jews to slip away from worshipping God to worshipping an idol. And even though the Levites were the designated priesthood, they slipped into disobedience just as adroitly as anyone else.

Luke 22:14–23: Luke’s description of the last supper opens with Jesus’ rather mysterious words,I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (15, 16) Unlike John’s gospel where four chapters of dialog, deep theology, and the High Priestly Prayer at this same meal, Luke provides us only this fraught and enigmatic statement. 

Rather than dialog, Jesus speaks the famous words that have been repeated down through the ages whenever the Eucharist occurs: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (19, 20)

However, the drama of betrayal is brought front and center when immediately following the words of institution, Jesus says, “But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.” (21) Luke makes sure that we know that Jesus knows what fate awaits him: “For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined,” (22a). But then, “woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” (22b). This is the curse on Judas that has echoed down through the ages. Luke is telling us that even though we know that Satan “entered” Judas, the betrayer is still responsible for his actions. We cannot justify our actions by blaming Satan.

While other gospels show Judas stalking out of the room, Luke’s disciples are bewildered, asking, “which one of them it could be who would do this.” (23) Judas has certainly kept his actions in the conspiracy well hidden.

 

Psalm 105:1–7; Judges 14,15; Luke 22:1–13

Psalm 105:1–7: This psalm, which reviews Israel’s long history and its relationship with God, asks us to rejoice in what God has done for Israel down through the centuries: “Acclaim the Lord, call out His name,/ make His deeds known among the peoples.” (1) The primary theme here in the introduction is one of rejoicing and worship as the congregation actively participates aloud in celebrating God’s glorious beneficence toward Israel: “Sing to Him, hymn to Him,/ speak of all His wonders.” (2) And not just reverent singing, but to behave as if we are at a party: “Revel in His holy name./ Let the heart of the Lord’s seekers rejoice.” (3) I particularly like the felicitous phrase, “let the heart of the Lord’s seekers rejoice.” Our relationship with God is not to be passive, but it is an active quest on our part.

This idea of active engagement with God continues in the next verse: “Inquire of the Lord and His strength,/ seek His presence always.” (4) It’s not that God isn’t always present with us, but by seeking we become increasingly conscious of his presence, which further deepens our relationship with him.

Our psalmist moves on to the main theme of the psalm, Israel’s history and its relationship with God: “Recall the wonders that He did,/ His portents and the judgements He issued.” (5) Notice that the psalmist’s audience is called to remember both the joys and the judgements of God. Something we would also do well to remember. God has never promised us a life of smooth sailing.

The target audience of the psalm is Israel itself, whom God has chosen out of all the tribes on earth: “O seed of Abraham His servant,/ sons of Jacob, His chosen ones.” (6) The poet reiterates that “He is the Lord our God—/ through all the earth, His judgements.” (7) reminding Israel—and us— that all are subject to God’s justice.

Judges 14,15: Now grown, Samson asks his father to obtain  Philistine wife for him. The father understandably objects to Samson marrying outside the tribe, but our omniscient authors observe,  “His father and mother did not know that this was from the Lord; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines.” (14:4) The ‘he’ in this case is God, but I’m not sure why God requires a pretext to do anything.

On the way to Philistia Samson tears apart an attacking lion”as one might tear apart a kid.” (6) Our authors make the crucial point that “the spirit of the Lord rushed on him,” accounting for his strength. On the next trip to Philistia Samson passes by the carcass of the lion, now (rather improbably) a bee’s nest. Samson scoops up honey, eats it and gives some to his parents, who are still in the dark about their son’s strength.

Samson marries and at the wedding feast with thirty of his friends makes a wager: “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.” (14:12) The answer to the riddle, Out of the eater came something to eat./Out of the strong came something sweet.” (14:14) eludes Samson’s erstwhile friends.

As a clear demonstration of the Philistine’s rapacity, the friends, who cannot figure out the riddle, approach Samson’s new wife, demanding the answer and threatening to burn down the house if she refuses. The unnamed (again!) wife nags Samson for the answer, using all her feminine wiles and she eventually wheedles it out of him. The men provide the riddle’s answer and Samson justly accuses them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer,/ you would not have found out my riddle.” (18) [We can let Samson’s metaphorical reference to his wife as a ‘heifer’ pass without further comment.]

Again, the author’s point out that “the spirit of the Lord rushed on him” and he kills thirty men, takes their spoils and tosses them in the faces of the thirty men and “in hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” (14:19) The erstwhile wife “was given to his companion, who had been his best man.” (20)

So, what’s the point of this story? It’s certainly an object lesson of the risks and consequences of an Israelite marrying a Philistine woman. The authors also make to clear that Samson’s strength occurs only when “the spirit of the Lord” comes on him.” We also learn that Samson is highly emotional and not a little devious.

His anger cooled, Samson returns to visit his wife, but his father-in-law informs him “I was sure that you had rejected her; so I gave her to your companion.” (15) He offers the wife’s younger and prettier sister to Samson, who refuses. Samson vows revenge which he accomplishes via the bizarre tale (pun intended) of capturing 300 foxes and putting a torch “tail to tail” and “and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.” (15:5)

As is still the nature of the tribal Middle East today, vengeance is the order of the day. The Philistines take vengeance on this act and cremate Samson’s wife and father-in-law. Samson in turn vows revenge, and “He struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter,” (15:8) and goes into hiding.

The Philistines come up to Judah demanding that the Jews hand over Samson, who are understandably upset at Samson’s acts against the people who rule over them. Samson agrees to be bound and handed over to the Philistines. Once again, “the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands.” (15:14) Samson grabs a donkey’s jawbone and slays 1000 Philistines by hand.

Samson is thirsty following this exertion and speaks rather imperiously to God, “You have granted this great victory by the hand of your servant. Am I now to die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” (15:18) God complies by producing water from a rock a la Moses in the wilderness. Samson drinks, is refreshed, and “he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.” (20)

Personally, I’m convinced that while there may have been a historical Samson who judged Israel for 20 years, his exploits are a highly creative myth—honey in a lion’s carcass? 300 foxes tails tied together with torches? A donkey’s jawbone as a weapon? These elements make for an colorful story with a clear moral about power given to a man by the spirit of God. But history? I don’t think so.

Luke 22:1–13: Luke turns his attention away from Jesus’ words to the active plot to kill him off. However, there’s a difficulty: Jesus is wildly popular so they can’t just arrest him in broad daylight without creating a riot.

Demonstrating that darker, more malevolent spiritual forces than mere human priests and Pharisees were at work here, Luke states, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot,” (3) who “conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.” (4) Delighted, they “agreed to give him money.” (5) interestingly, Luke does not say how much. Judas’ task is simple: find a way to have Jesus arrested out of public view. But does Luke’s observation let Judas off the hook, implying that Judas was effectively demon-possessed and no longer in control of his decisions? Personally, I don’t think so.

While the plotting and conniving was going on, Jesus “sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” (8) In an echo of the donkey affair when Jesus entered Jerusalem earlier in the week, Jesus seem to know exactly who needs to be followed and what is to be said in order to find a place for the Passover meal. Peter and John are to follow a man carrying a jar of water [Unusual I presume because water-carrying was usually woman’s work,] to his house and tell its owner, “‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ (11) Jesus knows exactly what the man will say and tells his disciples that “He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” (12)

So why does Luke include these details about how the house and room is to be found? I think it’s to make it clear that no detail about anyone’s life eludes Jesus. As God, he simply knows, and Luke records these seemingly insignificant details to demonstrate that while Jesus was 100% human he was also simultaneously 100% God.