Psalm 115:9–18; 1 Samuel 23; John 5:1–15

Psalm 115:9–18: By contrast with those nations who worship carved idols, our psalmist exhorts, “O Israel, trust in the Lord,/ their help and shield is He.” (9) As is the nature of Psalms, especially when the poet is making an urgent point, this theme is repeated in parallel verses that surely indicate this psalm was sung by the congregation:
House of aaron, O trust in the Lord,
their help and their shield is He.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord,
their help and their shield is He.” (10, 11)

Where there are no visible idols of manifestations of God’s presence it truly becomes all about trust. This of course is exactly our situation today. Do we trust in the Lord, especially when he seems to be absent? Or do we place our trust in idolatrous tangibles such as wealth and power?

The psalmist goes on to reassure us that God will indeed remember us and in that recollection, God will sure bless Israel and all its inhabitants:
The Lord recalls us, may he bless,
may He bless the house of Israel,
may He bless the house of Aaron.” (12)

Moreover, God’s blessings will be equally distributed: “May He bless those who fear the Lord,/ the lesser with the great.” (13) This is important for us to remember because it often seems that God has blessed the wealthy and forgotten the poor. Of course we are the ones who are supposed to be channels of God’s blessing to those who do not feel blessed.

The concluding stanza is pure worship and a beautiful benediction: “May the Lord grant You increase,/ both you and your children.” (14) And in fact, we are already blessed: “Blessed are you by the Lord,/ maker of heaven and earth.” (15)

Our psalmist ends by reminding us of God’s created order: “The heavens are heaven for the Lord,/ and the earth He has given to humankind.” (16) Being blessed by God is a privilege for all of us who are living: “The dead do not praise the Lord/ nor all who go down in silence.” (17) This verse provides insight into why Jews did not believe in an afterlife. Of course, for us under the terms of the new Covenant, there is an afterlife. But as the psalmist indicates, it’s our responsibility to worship God in the here and now, not in the future. For us who are living, “we will bless Yah/ now and forevermore.” (18)

1 Samuel 23: Even though David and is ragtag army are on the run, David remains faithful to God. He hears that “The Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and are robbing the threshing floors.” (1). Ever faithful to God’s leading, David inquires of God, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (2) God affirms this plan, but David’s men are afraid, so David asks God again. God again replies, “Yes, go down to Keilah; for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” (4) David does so, and they save Keilah.

Saul has heard that David is at Keilah and sees his chance “to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.” (8) Upon hearing this, David again inquired of God whether Saul’s intentions are evil and if David’s men will betray him. God replies that “They [the Ziphites] will surrender you [to Saul].” (12) David and 600 men escape Keilah and Saul temporarily ceases his pursuit. Our authors make it crystal clear that David remains under God’s protection: “Saul sought him every day, but the Lord did not give him into his hand.” (14)

The contrast here between Saul and David could not be more stark. David trusts God and prays for God’s guidance at every step. Saul, having abandoned God long ago appears ever more capricious and hell-bent on killing David.

Still on the run, David is in the wilderness when Jonathan reappears and tells the fugitive, “Do not be afraid; for the hand of my father Saul shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be second to you; my father Saul also knows that this is so.” (17) At last, David knows the reason for Saul’s relentless pursuit.

Some Ziphites plan to betray David to Saul, who sends people to go find David. Saul instructs these men, “Look around and learn all the hiding places where he lurks, and come back to me with sure information.” (23) Saul and David continue to play cat and mouse, “Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain.” (26) Saul is about to capture David when he is told the Philistines are raiding Israel. So,”Saul stopped pursuing David, and went against the Philistines.” (28)

It’s a close call for David, but we can be sure that Saul will return to his monomaniacal pursuit of David.

I think this chapter gives us a tangible example of how God protects those who trust in him. Even though he is on the run, David always has time for prayer and listening to God. It is this relationship alone and the fact that despite all the troubles that surround him, it is this priority that keeps David safe.

John 5:1–15: At the pool of Beth-zatha, Jesus inquires of the invalid who has been ill for 38 years why the sick man has not yet taken advantage of the pool’s healing waters. The man replies, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” (7) Jesus tells him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” (8) Which the man does. To me, this healing is a perfect illustration of what Jesus meant when he said “the last shall be first” (Matthew 20:16)

But Jesus has performed this miracle on the Sabbath and “the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” (10) The man explains that “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” (11) But he does not know it was Jesus who healed him, and now Jesus is nowhere to be seen.

The healed man and Jesus subsequently encounter each other in the Temple and Jesus tell him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (14) The man then informs “the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.” (15) We’ll certainly see the fallout from jesus’ Sabbath act in the next reading…

What’s intriguing here is that it is Jesus who seems to support the deuteronomic standard of the Pharisees that illness is a direct consequence of sin when he says, “Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” I suppose we could read this as sin—the act of separating ourselves from God as the man had been separated from the healing waters of the pool—is itself an illness. We can certainly conclude that refraining from sin is a means of remaining healthy in body, mind, and spirit.

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