Psalm 119:97–104; 2 Samuel 18:31–19:30; John 10:11–21

Written from Madison, Wisconsin.

Psalm 119: 97-104: Our psalmist continues his love poem to God’s teaching: “How I loved Your teaching,/ All day long it was my theme.” (97) But there’s more than mere infatuation here as he acknowledges the real benefits of following God’s laws: It makes him “wiser than my enemies” (98a) because “it is mine forever.” (98b) No other person can take God’s gift away from him.

God’s laws also provide deeper insight than any human wisdom and therefore, “I have understood more than all my teachers” (99a) again because “Your precepts became my theme.” (99b) In other words, it is his singular focus on God’s law whereby “I gained insight more than the elders/ for Your decrees I kept.” (100) Obviously, the implication here is that his teachers and elders have not been as focused in keeping God’s law as he. Once again, we see the roots of Pharisaism when our poet begins seeing him as superior to others—even those who are ostensibly his betters.

The psalmist’s religious self-righteousness again  peeks out from behind the curtain when he claims a level of moral purity and exclusivity with God not achieved by others: “From Your laws I did not swerve,/ for You Yourself instructed me.” (102) For me, he becomes downright unctuous as  he declares, “How sweet to my palate Your utterance,/ more than honey to my mouth.” (103) IMO, we see a more honest version of the poet in the last verse of this stanza: “From Your decrees I gained insight,/ therefore I hated all paths of lies.” (104)

Notice that he hates all ‘paths of lies,” which is the habit of falsity, not merely the lies themselves—a trait rather common in politicians. In fact, for me, that is the chief takeaway of this stanza: if we follow God we are less likely to follow the ‘paths of lies,’

2 Samuel 18:31–19:30: The Cushite arrives at David’s camp. David asks in desperation,“Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (18:32a) The messenger answers with superb diplomacy, complimenting Absalom but simultaneously making it clear that he is dead: “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” (32b) David famously mourns, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33)

David’s mourning dampens the morale of the victorious troops. Joab challenges the king’s public display of emotion, telling David that “You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.” (19:6) Joab goes on to make his point that “if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.” (7) In short, David’s public mourning has put his very bona fides as king at risk.  Joab knows a thing or two about leadership and his words are a striking reminder that leaders must continue to lead despite their personal emotions—even the death of a son.

Meanwhile, the Israelites who had backed Absalom are now without a king. David sends a message to Zadok and his son that the elders of Judah should not hesitate to bring him back to the throne. David returns to Jerusalem as king. Servants such as Shimei, who had sided with Absalom, realize they are doomed if David returns and decides to exact vengeance for their treachery.

A certain Abishai asks,“Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” (21) Shemei admits his sin and begs David for mercy, which he grants.

Saul’s grandson (and Jonathan’s son), lame Mephibosheth, whom David has granted a place in the palace, comes to greet David in a disheveled state. David asks, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” (25). M replies that he was deceived by his servant and because of his handicap could not follow David. M throws himself on the mercy of David, who responds generously, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” (29) M declines the offer, saying, “Let [Ziba] take it all, since my lord the king has arrived home safely.” (30)

The common theme through this passage of David receiving the news about Absalom, his mourning, the resumption of his role as king, and his generous acts of mercy all show David as the exemplar of kingly leadership. The lessons here are completely applicable to any person today in a leadership role—especially in the church.

John 10:11–21: One thing we can say about our gospel writer: he never leaves us hanging on Jesus’ often ambiguous statements which the synoptic writers do not always explain. John makes every effort to ensure we fully understand Jesus’ metaphors and parables, as he does here. There is no confusion as Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (11)

Religious authorities are mere hired hands, who are not loyal to the people they are supposed to lead: “The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” (13) Again, John gives us a strong hint of Jesus’ fate when Jesus repeats, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” (15)

Clearly, up to this point, the sheep represent the Jews to whom Jesus is preaching. But then Jesus speaks of non-Jewish sheep: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (16a) These ‘other sheep’ are Gentiles and Jesus has come equally for them. Regardless of race or background, all humanity can come to Jesus and “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (16b). Paul (who is actually writing earlier than the gospel writer) of course amplifies this when he says there is no distinction among those to whom Jesus has come: neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free man.

Jesus then provides a strong hint of his death and resurrection: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” (17) Perhaps even more startling, he asserts that he is in complete control of this event: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (18a) Our gospel writer is telling us in no uncertain terms that Jesus’ death was not based neither on circumstance nor on human intervention. Jesus’ death and resurrection has been preordained by God himself: “I have received this command from my Father.” (18b)

No wonder many in the crowd though he was a crazy man. But others sensed that because Jesus healed the blind man—up to this point Jesus’ most astounding miracle—that something far greater than a demon-possessed rabbi was at work here. Of course since we know the outcome of the story, we know which side was right.

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