Psalm 116:8–14; 1 Samuel 25:18–44; John 5:31–47

Psalm 116:8–14: Our grateful psalmist continues his paean of thanksgiving to God for healing and protection: “For You freed me from death,/ my eyes from tears,/ my foot from slipping.” (8) Best of all, he can return to a healthy life in his community: “I shall walk before the Lord/ in the lands of the living.” (9) And this healing has transformed his former cynicism to joy: “Oh, I was sorely afflicted—/ I in my rashness said,/ ‘All humankind is false.‘” (10b, 11)

Now that he has been restored to health the psalmist wishes to express his gratitude not just with words but with action:
What can I give back to the Lord
for all He requited me?
The cup of rescue I lift
and in the name of the Lord I call.” (12, 13)

What a great metaphor: ‘the cup of rescue.’ For us Christians, it of course calls to mind the cup of the Eucharist and how Christ has rescued us from the depravity of sin and made us right before God.

As always in the Psalms, gratitude expresses itself in public worship: “My vows to the Lord I shall pay/ in the sight of all His people.” (14) Here’s the challenge: do I express my gratitude for all God has done for me to others? Or do I keep it internalized? This psalm is an excellent reminder that when we are blessed or healed, we should effectively shout it from the rooftops.

1 Samuel 25:18–44: Realizing that David and four hundred of his army are approaching rapidly, doubtless to wreak havoc on the ungrateful Nabal, Abigail hastily takes provisions [“two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs” (18)], and loads them on donkeys. She sends the shepherds ahead and sets out without telling her husband.

She purposely encounters David, who complains, “Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good.” (21) Insulted, he promises to kill every male in Nabal’s household.

Abigail prostrates herself before David and tells him that so far he has restrained himself and that to kill Nabal and his household would make him like “your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal.” (26) With wisdom worthy of a judge of Israel, she reminds David that he his God’s man, “for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.” (28)  Abigail goes on to tell him that if he relents in his intentions of vengeance, “my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself.” (31)

David comes to his senses and responds with gratitude: first to “the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today!” (32) and then to Abigail, “Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand!” (33) And he promises not to kill Nabal’s household. Sensible women have prevented disasters—both large and small—down through history when men’s blood runs hot.

Abigail returns to Nabal, who is in the midst of a drunken feast. The next morning she tells Nabal what she’s done and that as a result, David will not attack. Upon hearing this, Nabal promptly has a heart attack and dies ten days later.

Nabal’s death is convenient: “David sent [messengers] and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife.” (39) Abigail is not only wise, she is humble: “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” (41)  She becomes David’s wife.

What stands out here is that David is certainly a creature of his emotions and plans to wreak pretty dire vengeance on Nabal for being insulted. It requires an outside agent, here Abigail, to bring him to his senses and to remember that he is God’s anointed, and it is God whom must follow, not his own fervid desires.

We will recall Abigail’s wisdom later when David falls in love with Bathsheba and she is not around to warn him before he acts rashly.

John 5:31–47: The gospel writer’s philosophical narrative style is on full display as Jesus continues his exceedingly dense sermon. Speaking as if he were in court, Jesus reminds his listeners that John the Baptist is a true witness to him: “There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true.” (32) John, as Jesus’ predecessor “was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.” (35) In yet another example of one of the overarching metaphors of this gospel—Jesus as light—it’s clear that the light has shifted from John to Jesus.

He goes on to assert, “But I have a testimony greater than John’s.” (36) which is God himself. Jesus tells his listeners that “the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. [But] you have never heard his voice or seen his form.” (37) One can imagine the skepticism building to anger among the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus, doubtless thinking they were hearing the ravings of a heretical lunatic.

In a direct reference back to the opening verses of the gospel, Jesus bluntly tells them they “do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.” (38) There’s that business about believing once again….

In what has total relevance to many Christians today who are obsessed with the Bible, Jesus is crystal clear: He tells them that they “search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” (39) Just like the Pharisees sought salvation in the scriptures, too many people, IMHO, worship the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Jesus says almost disbelievingly, “Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (40) As the saying goes, Jesus is making it clear that “It’s all about Jesus.”

And without Jesus, we cannot experience the real glory of God’s love: “I know that you do not have the love of God in you.” (42)  In a statement that makes it clear that the New Covenant replaces the Old and once again raises the theme of belief, Jesus hurls his final accusation at the Pharisees and Scribes: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” (46, 47) It’s all about Jesus, but as far as our gospel writer is concerned, it’s also all about belief. We either believe and experience the love of God, or we don’t. As with all things involving Jesus, there is no middle ground.

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