Archives for October 2016

Psalm 119:17–24; 2 Samuel 7; John 7:25–44

Psalm 119:17–24: Our enthusiastic psalmist uses sight as a metaphor for knowledge and understanding of God’s word: “…let me observe Your word./ Unveil my eyes that I may look/ upon the wonders of Your teaching.” (17b, 18) Life is temporary—”A sojourner am I in the land” (19a)—and in the brevity of the time allotted to him, he pleads, “So not hide from me Your commands.” (19b).  I take this business of revealing and asking God not to hide his word as indicative of what we have all experienced: God, being God, is just plain inscrutable. Just like the psalmist, we’d really like God to be somewhat more forthcoming than he is. I certainly feel that even in this journey through the bible, there are things that I will never understand—particularly when it comes to God’s apparent approval of cruelty and death.

Our psalmist engages in a bit of hyperbole when he says, as if he were a jilted lover, “I pine away desiring/ Your laws in every hour.” (20)  Really?

Then he tries a different approach to God, observing that “You blast the cursed arrogant/ who stray from Your commands.” (21) But our poet, longing to know God’s word, believes that keeping God’s law is the sure path to God’s approval: “Take away from me scorn and disgrace/ for Your precepts I have kept.” (22)

At this point, the poet takes on a kingly role, perhaps imagining himself as David, asserting that even as the target of conspiracy, he has remained faithful: “Even when princes sat to scheme against me,/ Your servant dwelled on Your statutes.” (23) He concludes this stanza with a rhetorical flourish: “Yes, Your precepts are my delight,/ my constant counselors.” (24) Once again, we can see that it is verses like these that gave the Pharisees their mojo.

2 Samuel 7: Now that Israel is at peace, David really, really want to build a temple, telling his prophet Nathan that “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” (2) Nathan gives David his blessing to go ahead with the temple project: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” (3)

But God has other plans.

God speaks to Nathan, telling him that “Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, …saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (7) God continues, retracing israel’s history, and instructs Nathan to tell David, that after the king dies, God will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, …and he shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (12). Moreover, God promises that “I will not take my steadfast love from him [David], as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.” (15)

What’s fascinating here is that God admits that he is capable of taking away his “steadfast love.” Clearly, this is an Old Covenant prerogative. Under the terms of the New Covenant we know that God is indeed love, expressed through our relationship with Jesus Christ. And that God’s love endures forever.

Nathan tells David what God has told him. David’s response is not to whine that he can’t carry out his great plan. Rather, he prays these compelling lines, first acknowledging God’s priority in his life: “Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.” (22) David understands that God is not interested in building a physical house, but that God has “made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’” (27), i.e., the House of David, his dynasty, out of which comes Jesus himself.

David’s prayer is a brilliant lesson for us to accept that God’s plans are not our plans and that rather than forging ahead with our plans, we are far better off to step back and listen to what God has in mind for us. By not forcing his will over God’s David’s ‘house’ brings forth two men who are far, far greater than David’s plan to build God a house made of cedar. Solomon builds the temple and Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the city of David. This is how God keeps his promise to “establish the throne of his [David’s] kingdom forever.”

John 7:25–44: In this gospel account, attempts to quash Jesus begin early in his ministry. People wonder, “here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?” (26) Some folks decide he can’t really be the Messiah because “we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” (27)

Jesus begs to differ, and speaks more directly of his incarnation that we have seen up to this point: “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him.” (28) And then even more radically, Jesus asserts, “I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” (29)  And as John observes, “many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (31)

Of course what Jesus has said is outright blasphemy under Jewish law, and the authorities try to arrest him. Although John does not say so, they cannot do so, probably because to do so would have caused a riot. Jesus rather surprisingly asserts that “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.” (33) People will search for Jesus but not find him. His listeners rather understandably think he’s about to abandon Jerusalem and Israel altogether and “go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks.” (35) Of course the Greeks do indeed find out about who Jesus is, but not the way these folks surmise.

Jesus, having already called himself the bread of life, goes on to  say, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” (37, 38) [There’s that belief theme again.] Jesus continues, telling the crowd, “‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (38b) John helpfully tells us “he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” (39. But not yet, “because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (39b)

At this point, John uses his narrative of the divided crowd to tell us that people had to believe that Jesus was either the Messiah or he was a blasphemer. What’s really fascinating here is that some people observe that the Messiah is supposed to be “descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived.” (42) Having not included the Bethlehem nativity story in his gospel, John’s Jesus as Messiah is more ambiguous, and I think does an effective job of underscoring the division between belief or disbelief within the crowd. Once again, the focus is on that binary choice about deciding who Jesus is.

Psalm 119:1–8; 2 Samuel 3:35–5:16; John 7:1–13

Psalm 119:1–8: And so we begin what Alter calls the “Long Acrostic” with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew language begins eight lines of poetry. This means 176 lines of poetry and 22 days to get through this psalm.

Its overall theme is highly didactic: describing in each 8-line section the manifest joys of studying God’s words and following God’s teaching and precepts. There is little passion, no supplication, not very much worship in this wisdom psalm.

Here we go…

The opening line—”Happy whose way is be happy blameless,/ who walk in the Lord’s precepts“—pretty much sets the tone and theme of the entire psalm.  The person who strictly follows God’s laws will do so because “with a whole heart they seek Him.” (2) As we know from reading the first five books of the bible—especially Leviticus—God “ordained Your decrees/ to be strictly observed.” (4) And here, our psalmist wishes that he can do so, too: “Would that my ways be firm/ to observe Your statutes.” (5)

The benefits of strictly following God’s law are personal: “Then I would not be shamed/ when I look upon all Your commands.” (6) This is the psalmist’s life goal: “I shall acclaim You with an honest heart/ as I learn Your righteous laws.” (7)

This section ends with a hint of pathos: “Your statutes I shall observe./ Do not utterly forsake me.” (8) The theology is simple, if questionable: strictly obey God’s law if you don’t want God to forsake you.  Of course as we know, and the psalmist probably did too, this is nigh unto impossible. Although the Pharisees of Jesus’ time certainly tried to.

2 Samuel 3:35–5:16: David continues to mourn the death of Abner. Our authors observe, “All the people took notice of it, and it pleased them; just as everything the king did pleased all the people.” (3:36). David is certainly well positioned and popular (unlike the current nominees for President). The “people and all Israel understood that day that the king had no part in the killing of Abner,” (37) Depsite his popularity, David still feels threatened by Joab’s brother, fearful he will take revenge.

Meanwhile back at Ishbaal’s court, when the erstwhile king “heard that Abner had died at Hebron, his courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed.” (4:1) Which he had good reason to be since Rechab and Baanah “came inside the house as though to take wheat, and they struck [Ishbaal] in the stomach,” (4:6) killing him. They gleefully bring the head of Ishbaal back to David, thinking “he was bringing good news,” (4:10) to David.

However, David pointed out that he had already killed the messenger who brought news of Saul and Jonathan’s death and tells the assassins, “how much more then, when wicked men have killed a righteous man on his bed in his own house!” (4:11) And promptly has them executed. In a final grisly twist, their hands and feet are cut off and the bodies hung beside the pool at Hebron. Above all, David respects the office of king, and when that office is violated, there is no mercy.

On that happy note, “all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh,'” (5:1) asking him to become king. He agrees and “King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” (5:3) Once again, God is at the center of David’s actions.

Seven years into his forty year reign, “the king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land.” (5:6) They fool themselves, taunting him, “David cannot come in here.” (5:6b). Nevertheless, David conquers the “stronghold of Zion.”

We need to be careful about the next verse: “David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” (5:8) I don’t think David actually hates blind and lame people. (After all, he takes Jonathan’s son, who is lame, into his own household.) Rather, I believe David is taunting the Jebusites back in response to their taunt, calling the army of the Jebusites, “blind and lame.”

In any event, David retakes Jerusalem and moves his court there, where it remained for centuries until the Babylonians conquered Israel. At Jerusalem, “King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar trees, and carpenters and masons who built David a house.” (5:11)

At this point, the kingdoms of Judah and Israel are united and finally, “David then perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.” (5:12) The authors go on to note David’s virility: “David took more concubines and wives; and more sons and daughters were born to David.” (5:13) David was doing what a powerful king in those days was obligated to do: establish a dynasty. In the list of 11 unfamiliar names of David’s children, we see one that stands out: Solomon.

John 7:1–13: In order to avoid assassination, Jesus retreats to Galilee. We learn that Jesus has younger brothers, who suggest he head down to Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths. They seem to be taunting him to show his powers in public, “for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (4) To make sure we get the point, John notes parenthetically, “not even his brothers believed in him.” (5)

Jesus lectures them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here,” (6) giving us one more indication of Jesus’ sense of mission, as he goes on to say that “the world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.” (7) Jesus is fully aware that a prophet is without honor in his own community.

Jesus’ brothers head on down to the Festival and Jesus remains behind in Galilee. But not for long. Jesus “also went, not publicly but as it were in secret.” (10) Word about Jesus had obviously spread. He was a controversial figure, and “there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.”” (12)

“The Jews,” which I take to be John’s title for the Jewish officials, are looking for him, but “no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.” (13)

Far more than the Synoptics, John constantly points out just how controversial Jesus was, suggesting that Jesus was equally controversial among the gospel writer’s own community. No question that then, as now, Jesus is a polarizing figure. This is consistent with John’s binary outlook: either you believe or, like Jesus’ own brothers, you don’t. Either you says, “he’s a good man,” or you say “he is deceiving the crowd. When it comes to Jesus, there is no middle ground.

 

 

 

Psalm 118:22–29; 2 Samuel 3:1–34; John 6:60–71

Psalm 118:22–29: We encounter the verse that Jesus quoted in reference to himself (Matt 21:42, also Mark & Luke) and that is also referred to Peter’s sermon in Acts 4, as well as in Ephesians and 1 Peter: “The stone that the builders rejected/ has become the chief cornerstone.” (22)  In the NT, this verse stands for Jesus and the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah.  the psalmist.

But the verse following is equally important and it doubtless came to mind among the Jews when Jesus referred to the chief cornerstone: “From the Lord did this come about—/ it is wondrous in our eyes.” (23) As the gospel of John makes clear over and over, Jesus has indeed come from directly God and this act of incarnation is wondrous for all humankind.

The verse that follows, “This is the day the Lord has wrought./ Let us exult and rejoice in it” (24) is equally well known, and usually something we casually toss off on Sunday mornings. But here in context, its meaning is far richer. This is the day that God has created and it is the day—every day—when we realize that the Rejected Cornerstone has indeed rescued us. That is the beauty to reflect on each morning when we awake: Not just the beauty of God’s creation but his munificent act in sending Jesus Christ to us: rejected in his time and culture—and in ours—but then to be exalted—worshipped— down through history for his saving grace.

The psalm concludes with a benediction that is an acknowledgement of how God in his rescue has blessed us:

The Lord is God and He shines upon us.

You are my God, and I acclaim You,
my God, and I exalt You.
Acclaim the Lord, for He is good,
forever is His kindness.” (27-29)

It would be good to pray those words of gratitude every morning.

2 Samuel 3:1–34: The house of Saul and the house of David have divided Israel between them. But as our authors note, “David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.” (1)  Even though the war between David and Saul’s descendants continues, David has been busy and sired 6 sons while residing at Hebron.

Meanwhile, over at Saul’s place, Abner “goes in” (as the euphemism has it) to Saul’s concubine Rizpah. Ishbaal accuses Abner essentially of rape. Abner apparently feels he has every right as a loyal general to do what he pleases and rather whiney and defensively replies to Ishbaal, “Am I a dog’s head for Judah? Today I keep showing loyalty to the house of your father Saul, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David; and yet you charge me now with a crime concerning this woman.” (8) And he shifts his allegiance to David.

Abner sends a message to David promising to “give you my support to bring all Israel over to you.” (12) David agrees on one condition, “you shall never appear in my presence unless you bring Saul’s daughter Michal when you come to see me.” (13) David can certainly hold a grudge and now that Saul’s house is weakened he demands that Saul’s daughter Michal be taken from her husband and given to him. The poor husband “went with her, weeping as he walked behind her all the way to Bahurim. ” (16) But Abner forces him to turn back.

This incident is certainly a precursor of bigger things to come with Bathsheba. While David certainly follows God, he is also a highly flawed human being. And a stark reminder to us that even though we have been rescued by Jesus we will still succumb to our sinful desires, especially when like David we have power over others.

Abner persuades Israel to throw its lot with David, telling the king, “Let me go and rally all Israel to my lord the king, in order that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” (21) Abner leaves David just as Joab arrives back at Hebron “from a raid, bringing much spoil with them.” (22)

Upon finding out that David has made peace with Abner, Joab effectively tells David that he’s been duped by Saul’s general and that he’s really a spy: “You know that Abner son of Ner came to deceive you, and to learn your comings and goings and to learn all that you are doing.” (25)

Unknown to David, Joab calls Abner back to Hebron on a ruse and “Joab took him aside in the gateway to speak with him privately, and there he stabbed him in the stomach.” (27) This is Joab’s revenge for Abner’s murder of his brother, Asahel.

David is beyond mere anger and quickly disavows any responsibility for Joab’s act, cursing Joab and his descendants in one of the more colorful curses found in the bible: “May the guilt fall on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks food!” (29)

David orders mourning for the death of Abner, and offers a beautiful lament as “all the people wept over him again.” (34)

This chapter gives us the dark side of David who takes another man’s wife, and of Joab, who murders out of revenge. This is one of those places where we realize that the sins of men have not altered in more than 3000 years. We may think we’re more sophisticated and advanced than these ancient people, but the darkness that lurks in our hearts is exactly the same. As witness recent political events.

John 6:60–71: Following Jesus’ complex sermon about living bread and drink, his disciples rather understandably say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (60) Jesus cuts them no slack and rather sarcastically remarks, “Does this offend you?” (61) He goes on to summarize his sermon, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (63)

He then observes that “among you there are some who do not believe.” (64) Here it is once again in clear text: It’s all about belief, and in these words our gospel writer is addressing his community and us: If we do not believe that Jesus is who he says he is, there’s no point in being his disciple. John observes , “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” (66)

Jesus turns to his inner circle and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” (67). As always, Peter speaks up first in the famous phrase [that we used to say every week in worship] telling Jesus [and John telling us]: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (68) Once again, for this gospel writer, who wants to ensure we get the point, it’s all about belief. Peter continues, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (69)

John also makes it clear that Jesus knew well in advance that he would be betrayed: “‘Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.” (70b, 71) This is a striking difference from the Synoptics where Jesus holds this information back until the Last Supper, the actual night of his betrayal. I think John wants us to understand that some people profess belief, but in their hearts, betrayal still lurks. Like David, we may follow God, but we are also still creatures of our sinful flesh. Belief is necessary but it is not sufficient, IMHO. Belief must be proved by our thoughts actions.

 

Psalm 118:15–21; 2 Samuel 2; John 6:52–59

Psalm 118:15–21: This section appears to the hymn that our rescued psalmist (or David) sings when he arrives at the temple: “A voice of glad song and rescue/ in the tents of the just.” (15) As we know from the questions posed by his disciples to Jesus, the right hand of God is the place of honor. Here, God’s right hand has been the instrument of rescue, as our poet sings,
The Lord’s right hand does valiantly.
The Lord’s right hand is raised,
the Lord’s right hand does valiantly.” (16)

God’s right hand has rescued him from death and his response is—as it always is in the Psalms—worship: “I shall not die but live/ and recount the deeds of Yah.” (17) He acknowledges that he has been tested severely, but in the end there was God’s rescue: “Yah harshly chastised me/ but to death did not deliver me.” (18)

As God has been just to him in this rescue, he will celebrate that justice for him and all people in the metaphor of entering the temple: “Open for me the gates of justice—/I would enter them, I would acclim Yah.” (19) To ensure that we get his point about God’s justice, he reiterates the idea that to worship, we ourselves must be justified before God: “This is the gate of the Lord—/ the just will enter it.” (20)

In the end, rescue becomes worship: “I acclaim You for You have answered me,/ and You have become my rescue.” (21) The question for me is, do I give God full credit for the rescues he’s effected in my own life? My healing from cancer was not strictly supernatural. There was lots of medicine and technology involved. But I think the point here is that humans cannot take sole credit for the technologies that heal. After all, it is God who has given humankind knowledge and understanding in order to effect my rescue. My logical response, then, should be worship to God “who has become my rescue.”

2 Samuel 2: As he always does, David asks God what he should do next: “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” (1) As always, God answer, telling David he should go to Hebron. When he arrives, “the people of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.” (4) Notice that at this point, David is king only over one tribe—albeit an important one—not over all Israel.

However, Abner, who commanded Saul’s army, has set up Ishbaal, Saul’s surviving son as king “over Gilead, the Ashurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and over all Israel.” (9) while David reigns over Judah. Israel is a divided nation at this point. This goes on for several years until civil war breaks out.

The standoff comes to a head at the pool of Gibeon. Abner’s men sit on one side of the pool while Joab “and the servants of David” sit on the other side. Each side chooses twelve men to fight to the death as “each grasped his opponent by the head, and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side; so they fell down together.” (16) If we ever needed a metaphor for the self-destructiveness of civil war, this is it. Joab’s men defeat Abner’s, who immediately turns and runs.

Joab’s brother, Ashael, who “was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle” (18) pursues Abner, and ends up stalking him. Abner challenges him to “seize one of the young men, and take his spoil” (21) but to stop following him. Ashael refuses and Abner turns around and runs him through with his sword.

Joab and his other brother, Abishai, pursue Abner. As a battle is about to commence, “Abner called to Joab, “Is the sword to keep devouring forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you order your people to turn from the pursuit of their kinsmen?” (26) Joab replies that his men “would have continued to pursue their kinsmen, not stopping until morning.” (27). Joab calls off the battle and “they no longer pursued Israel or engaged in battle any further.” (28) the internecine warfare finally comes to an end. Nineteen of David’s men, besides Ashael have been killed, while 360 of Abner’s men have died.

What’s remarkable about this story is that two men—Abner and Joab—realize the futility of continued civil warfare that will ultimately destroy everybody on both sides. Would that this same wisdom would obtain in the unending battle between Israel and Palestine.

John 6:52–59: Those who heard Jesus are understandably confused by his sermon and his assertion that he is the “bread of life” and that his flesh will be eaten: “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (52)

But typically, rather than try to explain his point further, Jesus seems to expand the confusion by saying, “I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (53) And then in what must have sounded like cannibalism to some, he goes on to elaborate: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” (54, 55)

As if that wasn’t enough, he goes on to tell his listeners, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (56)

Of course this becomes the core of the Eucharist, and these verses must certainly be be at the foundation of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

But I’m forced to ask myself, did Jesus really say it this way in the synagogue of Capernaum? Or is our author building on simpler words and concepts that Jesus said to create this complex theology of Christ’s incarnation becoming the sacred food and wine of the early church? Yes, I know this is a heretical thought, and I certainly accept the reality of the Eucharist in that Christ is somehow present. But as to whether Jesus actually uttered this complex theology as it’s written by the author some 100 years after the fact leaves me skeptical.

 

Psalm 118:10–14; 2 Samuel 1; John 6:43–51

This is my 700th post here at Mormusings.com since beginning this project in February, 2014.

Psalm 118:10–14: Having praised God and noting that God’s shelter is far superior to trusting princes, our psalmist turns to describe a personal event where God provided the strength to overcome his enemies:
All the nations surrounded me.
With the Lord’s name I cut them down.
They swarmed round me, oh the surrounded me.
With the Lord’s name I cut them down.” (10, 11)

We’ve observed in our readings in I Samuel that David always prayed to God for guidance before he undertook any military mission. So these words, whether spoken by David or not, certainly reflect his close connection to God.

Notice also that it is in “the Lord’s name” that he is able to act. God did not intervene supernaturally. While he is the one who actually cut down his enemies in battle, he is able to do so only in God’s name. The lesson for us is that no matter what adversaries or circumstances we may face, it is prayer in the Lord’s name that empowers us to action.

Our psalmist goes on to repeat over and over how it was the Lord’s name that gave him the strength to act against his enemies with two powerful metaphors:
They swarmed round me like bees,
burned a fire among thorns.

With the Lord’s name I cut them down.” (12)

Speaking directly to his enemy, our poet tells him that “You pushed me hard to knock me down,/ But the Lord helped me.” (13) For those of us who have a deep connection to God through Jesus Christ, these are words that we can identify with. It doesn’t have to be in military battle, but in our own battles with illness or broken relationships.

Indeed, God is the source of our ability to act. But even more importantly, it is our reliance on God that rescues us as well: “My strength and my might is Yah,/ and He has become my rescue.” (14) Contrary to how our culture—especially politicians—would have it, it is not about “I would do this” or “I will do that.” Our strength and our salvation lie not in ourselves, but in our relationship with God.

2 Samuel 1: A man, who is a resident alien Amalekite, arrives at David’s camp with the awful news that Saul and Jonathan have been killed in battle. At first, David is in denial and demands of the messenger,“How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan died?” (5) The man responds that the badly injured Saul “looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me.” (7) He tells Saul he is an Amalekite and Saul asks him, “‘Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’” (9) Which the Amalekite does.

This is puzzling because we have just read that Saul committed suicide by falling on his sword. It certainly suggests that the author of 1 Samuel is not the same person as the author of 2 Samuel.

In any event, apparently knowing already that David is Saul’s successor as king, the Amalekite hands over Saul’s armlet and crown to David, doubtless expecting to be praised for his action. But David is beyond despair and “took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel.” (11, 12)

David turns to the Amalekite who bought the news and asks, “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” (14) We never hear the man’s answer because Saul commands one of his men, “Come here and strike him down.” (15). Which he does. David does not hesitate to kill the messenger bringing such awful news, but justifies it on the basis of the grievous sin of killing “the Lord’s anointed.” Frankly, there seems to be a bit of whitewashing of David’s reputation here.

David’s lamentation for Saul and Jonathan is expressed in the Song of the Bow, which he commands be taught to the people of Israel and has been written in the now lost Book of Jashar. Happily, it’s also preserved here.

For me, the most beautiful verse of the psalm is,
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
    In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
    they were stronger than lions.” (23)

But the more famous verse is,
How the mighty have fallen
    in the midst of the battle!” (25)

Even though Saul relentlessly tried to kill David, this lamentation is an honest expression of David’s respect for Saul and the office he held because he was the Lord’s anointed. But there is also no question that David’s deeper sorrow is over the loss of his friend, Jonathan.

John 6:43–51: As we’ve observed before, John’s Jesus never hides the fact that he is the Son of God, who is the Father’s representative on earth. In a preview of the more famous verse in the Upper Room Discourse, where Jesus says “no one comes to the father but by me,” Jesus asserts, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” (44) Here, we are “drawn” to the father, presumably by the Holy Spirit, so we can see that Jesus is speaking of the Trinity here although the word, “Trinity” is never used in the Bible.

Jesus goes on to tell his listeners that “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God,’” (45) rather strongly implying that in hearing Jesus those prophetic words have come true. He reminds them that “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (46) Again, the strong implication is that Jesus alone has seen God and therefore he is indeed the Word that has been sent to earth by God.

We again encounter belief as the overarching theme of this gospel: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (47) Jesus is asking his listeners—and us—that by believing, we will receive everlasting sustenance from him as he again states, “I am the bread of life.” (48) By again reminding them of how their ancestors ate manna from God in the wilderness, those who believe in Jesus will receive a new manna—bread—which of course is Jesus himself.

To make sure we all get the point, Jesus repeats himself: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” (51a) In short, eating is believing. He then hints at a darker fate: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (51b) As we know and the Jews here will find out, the bread becomes available to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This is all mighty deep theology!

Psalm 118:1–9; 1 Samuel 30,31; John 6:25–42

Psalm 118:1–9: This thanksgiving psalm—”Acclaim the Lord, for He is good,/ forever is His kindness” (1)— looks to be a liturgical psalm used in collective worship:
Let Israel now say:
forever is His kindness.
Let the house of Aaron now say:
Forever is His kindness.
” (2, 3)

We could take these verses as being a responsive reading (something we used to do at Saint Matthew): one line spoken by the laity (Israel) and a response by the priests (house of Aaron). And then spoken together by all:
Let those who fear the Lord now say:
forever is His kindness.” (4)

There’s a sudden shift to a first person supplication: “From the straits I called toYah./ Yah answered me in a wide-open place.” (5) And in that answer, the psalmist—and we—can take immense comfort, no matter what trials we may face: “The Lord is for me, I shall not fear./ What can humankind do to me?” (6) I am sure that it is in this verse where many Christian martyrs found their peace.

For the psalmist, God is on his—and our—side: “The Lord is among my helpers,/ and I shall see defeat of my foes.” (7) It all boils down to where and in whom we place our trust. As our psalmist observes, “Better to shelter in the Lord/ than to trust in humankind.” (8) Yet, I tend to do the opposite: I place my trust in the tangible and the works of mankind rather than in God.

And in a verse particularly appropriate to this fraught political season: “Better to shelter in the Lord/ than to trust in princes.” (9) No matter how noble the prince  may be—and God knows there is hardly a scintilla of nobility out there right now—they, too, are mere fallen humans. In the end, only God is worthy of his trust because he never fails us.

1 Samuel 30,31: After a 3-day journey, David and his men came to the town of Ziklag, which has been utterly destroyed by the Amalekites and the sons and daughters kidnapped by the invaders, including David’s two wives. Those left in the city want to stone David, so ever mindful of his reliance on God, “David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?” (30:8) God’s answer is affirmative, and off he and his 600 soldiers go.

A third of his band drops by the wayside from exhaustion, but David and 400 trudge on. They encounter a starving Egyptian, who when fed by David, leads them to the Amalekite army. As the Amalekites are enjoying a bacchanalia with the spoils of war, David “attacked them from twilight until the evening of the next day. Not one of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled.” (30:17)

Returning with the spoils of war, David and the 400 encounter the 200 who had been too exhausted to continue to the place where the Amalekites were. Those “corrupt and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David” (22) refused to share the spoils with the 200 who had remained behind. But David reminds them that the spoils are from the Lord, who “has preserved us and handed over to us the raiding party that attacked us.” (23) He commands that all shall share and our authors note that, “From that day forward he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel; it continues to the present day.” (25)

David’s actions call to mind Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, where no matter what time they showed up, whether dawn or late afternoon, all would receive the same pay. His parable is merely an extension of longstanding custom in Israel, so I don’t know why everyone was so surprised by Jesus’ words. Of course the message to us is that our wealth is not ours, but God’s and it’s there to be shared with those less fortunate.

Meanwhile over on Philistia, Saul’s army is fighting. In distinct contrast to David’s successful exploits, “The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.” (31:2) Saul is badly injured and he begs his armor-bearer to run him through and finish the job: But the armor-bearer is terrified and understandably cannot murder his master. “So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.” (31:4) And his armor-bearer does the same. [Whence the saying, ‘to fall on one’s sword.] The remainder of Israel’s army flees for the hills.

The victorious Philistines behad Saul’s corpse and hang it in the town square, “but when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan.” (12) They bury Saul and his three sons “under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.” (13)

What tragically wasted promise that it came to this. Saul was chosen for his fortitude and apparent wisdom by Samuel to become king. Alas, his early successes went to Saul’s head. he believed he, rather than God, was in charge of Israel’s destiny. And it all came to naught. How many men have let power go to their head and ignore God and reap the consequences? Our authors have brilliantly juxtaposed David, who seeks God’s guidance continually with Saul’s fecklessness. The lesson of who to follow: God or man is crystal clear. As our psalmist has it, “Better to shelter in the Lord/ than to trust in princes.

John 6:25–42: The crowd finds Jesus on “the other side of the sea.” Having not seen him depart, they’re surprised to see him there and ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (25) As usual, Jesus does not answer their question, but tells them they followed because they had received food from him, and goes on to say, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (27)

This being the gospel of John, a philosophical/ theological discourse follows. Jesus tells the crowd about how their ancestors ate manna, and reminds them, “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” (32) The crowd, thinking they’re about to latch onto a never-ending source of physical sustenance, understandably replies,“Sir, give us this bread always.” (34)

Jesus then makes his startling assertion that it’s not about physical bread, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (35). [This is the second “I am” in the gospel; the first was Jesus telling the woman at the well that he is the living water.]

As always with this gospel writer, it’s all about belief: “I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” (36) The crowd did not fully comprehend his conclusion, “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” (40) They are having trouble with what they know and what Jesus is telling them.

Unsurprisingly, there is skepticism: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (42) It’s easy for us to poo-poo the crowd, but I know in my heart, I’d be asking the same question. In fact, there are times when I still do.

Psalm 117; 1 Samuel 28,29; John 6:16–24

Psalm 117: This is the shortest Psalm and therefore the shortest chapter in the bible. But in its brevity is profundity. Rather than focusing on the poet or even the entire nation of Israel, it is universal. God is the God of all humankind and the worship of all humankind is our response: “Praise the Lord, all nations;/ extol Him, all peoples.” (1)

The two qualities of God that the psalmist brings out are his kindness and his truth. God’s kindness is more than adequate; it is overflowing: “For His kindness overwhelms us,” (2a) Reflect for a moment on the implications of this phrase. What would it feel like to be overwhelmed with kindness? Especially God’s kindness. What a sense of connection and peace that would be.

God’s truth is the pillar that stands alongside his kindness: “and the Lord’s steadfast truth is forever.” (2b) God’s truth is not just comparative. It does not merely stand among other “truths;” it trumps every idea of ‘truth’ especially in this age of individualism where one person’s ‘truth’ is another’s falsity.

Moreover, God’s truth transcends time; it never changes and it never wavers. It is the one reference point to which we can find all other truth. Alas, having abandoned God’s truth, we have become a culture that is adrift and sinking,

Jesus makes this universality of God’s kindness and truth crystal clear, especially in the gospel of John. We can trace this verse directly to John 3:16: For God so loved the world… With the psalmist, we can only conclude with that single response: “Hallelujah.”

1 Samuel 28,29: Having abandoned Israel to escape Saul, David has become the mercenary for King Achish of Gath and is living among the Philistines. David carries out raid after raid, killing everyone. Achish is pretty pleased about this and “Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” (28:2)

Our authors leave David at Gath and turn their attention to Saul, who faces an imminent attack from the Philistines and “when Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.” (28:5) In his panic, Saul says foxhole prayers, but God does not answer. So Saul has his servants find a medium, the famous “witch of Endor” (as she is called in the KJV).

Saul visits the medium in disguise at night and asks her to summon the spirit of Samuel. Sau convinces her he won’t punish her for being a medium and she reluctantly obliges Saul. When Samuel appears, the woman realizes that Saul is king. [One wonders at this point about all those Christians who felt that Harry Potter was a malign influence because of its theme of magic and spells. Yet here’s a pretty dramatic example right here in Scripture.]

Samuel’s pretty annoyed to be called forth and when he hears Saul’s whining complaint that God has abandoned him, the ghost of Samuel replies in no uncertain terms: “The Lord has done to you just as he spoke by me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David.” (28:17) This is payback for Saul’s failure to carry out God’s “fierce wrath against Amalek, [and] therefore the Lord has done this thing to you today.” (18) Samuel is dreadfully clear about what will happen: “tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.” (19)

Already weak from hunger, Saul faints. The woman of Endor, who at this point sounds like the quintessential Jewish mother, tells Saul he needs something to eat. She prepares an early breakfast of beef and cakes. Saul and his men depart.

Meanwhile David has gathered his men to fight on the side of the Philistines. The “commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” (29:3) Achish explains that since David “deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” (29:3) But the commanders will have nothing to do with David and order Achish to send David back “to the place you have assigned to him” (29:4) and that he will not participate in the battle with Israel. After all, they argue, this is the same “David, of whom they sing to one another in dances,

‘Saul has killed his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands’?” (29:5)

Achish brings the bad news to David, who is pretty upset and echoes what he said to Saul so many times: “But what have I done? … that I should not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” (29:8) Achish tries to reassure him, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God; nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ (9)

David and his men return to Philistia. Of course from the perspective of knowing how the story turns out, it would have been disastrous for David to fight against his own countrymen. Sometimes the hand of God works in unexpected ways and this is certainly one of those times.

John 6:16–24: John gives an abbreviated story of Jesus walking on water. It’s almost dark and Jesus has not returned. The disciples “ got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum.” (17) Three or four miles out the storm comes up. Unlike the other gospel accounts where the disciples are terrified because of the storm, here in John they are terrified when “they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat” (19) Which is exactly how I’d feel if I saw somebody walking toward me on the water.

Jesus utters his famous words, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (21) Which is John’s point of the story. Regardless of our circumstances, we know that with Jesus we have no need to be afraid. Nevertheless, I am usually much more like the disciples…

 

John adds a new twist to this story, telling us that the crowd on the shore of Tiberias saw that the disciples had left without Jesus, but they couldn’t find him either. So “they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” (24)

Of course John has a larger meaning here than just some people following Jesus over to Capernaum. We are all looking for Jesus and in that looking, we are to follow him wherever he takes us.

Psalm 116:15–19; 1 Samuel 26,27; John 6:1–15

Psalm 116:15–19: Having escaped death, our poet reflects on God’s love which extends even to those who die: “Precious in the eyes of the Lord/ is the death of His faithful ones.” (15) Even in death God does not abandon us. While he is alive, our poet knows that he is God’s faithful servant but never God’s slave, for it is God who has set him free:
I beseech You, Lord,
for I am Your servant.
I am our servant, Your handmaiden’s son.
You have loosed my bonds.” (16)

And in this freedom, the concluding verses of this psalm describes how our psalmist converts gratitude into public action at the temple in Jerusalem:
To You I shall offer a Thanksgiving sacrifice
and in the name of the Lord I shall call.
My vows to the Lord I shall pay
in the sight of all His people
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in the midst of Jerusalem.”  (17- 19)

The questions for me are, am I grateful to God for all that he has done for me through Jesus Christ, and how willing am I to express that gratitude and joy publicly?

This concludes my reflections for 10/6/16 as I am traveling to a business meeting.

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.

Psalm 116:1–7; 1 Samuel 24:1–25:17; John 5:16–30

Psalm 116:1–7: It’s hard to top the personal joy expressed in the opening line of this psalm of thanksgiving: “I love the Lord, for He has heard/my voice, my supplications.” (1) This psalm is the mirror image of a psalm of supplication; it’s what is sung or spoken following the realization that God has indeed answered those often desperate prayers. God has heard my cries: “For He has inclined His ear to me/ when in my days I called.” (2)

There’s little question that when our psalmist prayed it was in a time of urgent need when he was near death—perhaps from illness or on the battlefield: “The cords of death encircled me—/ and the straits of Sheol found me—distress and sorrow did I find.” (3) Our psalmist describes those moments when he turned to God, perhaps as his last resort: “And in the name of the Lord I called./ ‘Lord, pray, save my life.'” (4) Notice how short that prayer is: just five words. God never requires a lengthy explanation of the circumstances. He already knows.

And God answered. In that answer, our poet realizes the marvelous qualities of the God to whom he prayed, especially his mercy: “Gracious the Lord and just,/ and our God shows mercy.” (5) The next verse reveals the psalmist’s deep humility in its image of a drowning man: “The Lord protects the simple./ I plunged down, but me He did rescue.” (6)

Storm-tossed by desperate circumstances, our poet has cried out to God, who has heard him and rescued him. And now, he returns to the inner peace that only God can bring as he addresses himself: “Return, my being, to your calm,/ for the Lord has requited you.” (7)

These verses describe each of us when we encounter illness, danger and potentially great loss. We can cry out in prayer and God will hear us. Even if our prayers are not answered in the way we may wish, an honest relationship with God will always bring us inner peace and tranquility—the calm harbor of God’s rest.

1 Samuel 24:1–25:17: Finished with the distraction of fighting off the Philistines, Saul quickly returns to his overriding obsession: killing David. David and his men are hiding in the back of a cave that Saul has selected as a good place to “relieve himself.”

David’s men urge their leader to kill Saul and get it over with: “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’” (24:4a) Rather than killing Saul, David “went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak.” (4b). David regrets even this action, realizing that despite everything Saul is still God’s anointed king.

Saul leaves the cave and David comes outside “and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.” (24:8) David, showing Saul the piece of cut-off cloak tells Saul that while he could have killed the king, he promises “‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’” (10)

David gives an eloquent speech, concluding with “May the Lord therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and you. May he see to it, and plead my cause, and vindicate me against you.” (15) When Saul hears this promise he replies, “Is this your voice, my son David?” Saul lifted up his voice and wept.” (16) At this moment, Saul knows that David has done a merciful and great thing: “For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.” (19)

Saul comes to realize that David will be king and coming to his senses, asks but one thing: that David will spare Saul’s descendants: “you will not wipe out my name from my father’s house.” (21) As we’ve observed, when one king takes over from another, the predecessor’s family is executed.

David swears he will not kill Saul’s descendants. At this point of reconciliation, “Saul went home; but David and his men went up to the stronghold.” (22) Obviously everything isn’t exactly peaches and cream just yet. But David’s mercy is just one more way that our authors contrast David’s God-fearing nobility against Saul’s self-centeredness. Has Saul truly repented?

We then come the almost parenthetical comment that Samuel, who has led so wisely and done so many great things for Israel, dies and is buried at his home in Ramah.

We meet Nabal the very rich but very surly man in Carmel, who has a “clever and beautiful” wife named Abigail. David sends ten young men to tell Nabal that they have come on a feast day and to show hospitality. to David and his men.

Upon hearing this request, Nabal doesn’t believe them and responds snidely, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters.” (25:10) Upon hearing this David instructs his men to “strap on his sword!” (25:13) and sets out for Nabal’s house accompanied by 400 men.

Meanwhile, one of Nabal’s shepherds tells Abigail that when “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them.” (25:14). The servant points out that David and his men were protecting Nabal’s shepherds “and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them.” (15) This servant knows that an angry and insulted David is coming their way and pleads for Abigail to intercede with nabal since “he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.” (25:17)

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of this story.

John 5:16–30: Jesus reaps the whirlwind for his effrontery in “doing such things on the sabbath.” (16) Moreover, he compounds matters by adding the heresy by “calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.” (18)

In response to these accusations, Jesus gives a lengthy philosophical discourse on the relationship between Father and Son. For me, there’s ambiguity here. Is Jesus talking about himself or is he describing a theological construct about Father and Son?  His statements must have blown the Pharisee’s minds when he tells them, “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son,”  (22) Is the Son the Messiah? If so, is the Messiah really the Son of God?

Our gospel writer once again raises this gospel’s underlying theme of belief being essential: “I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (24)

Just to make things even more confusing, Jesus adds that “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (25) Given that most Jews did not believe in an afterlife, is Jesus speaking of some sort of metaphorical death?

Then, in what just seems to muddy the waters even more, Jesus adds an eschatological note: “for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (28, 29)

This passage is puzzling on many fronts. We can see from our vantage point that Jesus is talking about himself since we know how the story comes out. But to his listeners he must have sounded like a theological lunatic.