Archives for October 2016

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.

Psalm 115:1–8; 1 Samuel 21:10–22:23; John 4:43–54

Psalm 115:1–8: This psalm draws a bright boundary between mankind and God. Only God is worthy of worship: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us/ but to Your name give glory/ for Your kindness and Your steadfast truth.” (1) Our psalmist goes on to ask and answer the mocking question of surrounding nations and religions: “Why should the nations say,/ ‘Where is their [Israel’s] god?‘” (2) The answer is obvious: God is invisible because he’s up above in heaven overseeing his creation: “when our God is in the heavens—/all that He has desired He has done.” (3)

The invisible Hebrew God was unique in a world that relied on carved deities, which our poet goes to mock in a creative polemic. He starts out making sure we know that these idols are in fact a human creation: “Their idols are silver and gold,/ the handiwork of man.”  (4)

He runs down the list feature-by-feature comparing their intrinsic lifelessness to humans, who are very much alive:
A mouth they have but they do not speak,
eyes they have, but they do not see.
Ears they have but they do not hear,
a nose they have but they do not smell.” (5, 6)

The pagan idols are without senses, unfeeling, immobile and silent:
Their hands—but they do not feel;
their feet—but they do not walk;
they make no sound with their throat.” (7)

Our psalmist then uses this lifelessness to turn a curse back on those who would place their trust in inanimate objects—that they become as lifeless as the objects they worship: “Like them may be those who make them,/ all who trust in them.” (8)

While our psalmist is calling out carved and decorated wooden figures, we would do well to read and reflect on the idols in our own lives. Into what inanimate objects that seem to have life, but are actually dead do we place our own trust? I think a modern idol is the Internet and especially, social media (and more darkly, pornography). We may think we are experiencing true life online, but it is a chimera. Only in real human relationships do we experience true life. Only in the living God in heaven do we worship in truth and not in vain.

1 Samuel 21:10–22:23: On the run from Saul, David comes to King Achish of Gath. The king’s servants mockingly recall “Is this not David the king of the land?” This mockery makes David fearful and to ensure he is not killed by Achish, “he pretended to be mad when in their presence.” (21:14) Achish, knowing he’s already surrounded by madmen, utters the famous line, “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?” (15)

David moves on and hides in the cave of Adullam. This must have been close to Bethlehem because “when his brothers and all his father’s house heard of it, they went down there to him.” (22:1)  A ragtag army of “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented” (22:2) forms around David and soon he has a retinue of 400 men.

David and his little army move on to Moab where the prophet Gad advises him to “not remain in the stronghold; leave, and go into the land of Judah.” (4) Which he does.

Meanwhile, Saul has become completely paranoid and obsessed with killing David. Saul’s servant, Doeg the Edomite, reveals that David received the sword of Goliath from Ahimelech the priest. The priest is brought before Saul, who accuses him of treason. Ahimelech protests his innocence and tells Saul, “Who among all your servants is so faithful as David? He is the king’s son-in-law, and is quick[c] to do your bidding, and is honored in your house.” (14) Our authors are making sure we know that David is the innocent party here.

Undeterred, Saul commands Doeg to kill the priests of Nob, including Ahimelech: “on that day he killed eighty-five who wore the linen ephod. Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he put to the sword.” (18, 19)

One of the priest’s sons, Abiathar, escapes and makes it to David’s camp, where David, upon hearing the news about Nob, takes responsibility for what has happened and tells Abiathar, “Stay with me, and do not be afraid; for the one who seeks my life seeks your life; you will be safe with me.” (23) Notice David’s confidence: even though is the object of a ferocious manhunt, he trusts God will protect him and tells the priest’s son that “you will be safe with me.” 

This passage draws the stark contrast between Saul, who has fallen into what can only be described as monomaniacal madness, and David, who is confident that God will protect him. And Saul will surely pay for his reprehensible act at Nob.

John 4:43–54: Jesus leaves Samaria and returns to Galilee. But he does not return anonymously: “the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.” (45) His first stop is Cana, “where he had changed the water into wine.” (46) This time, it’s the son of a royal official who begs Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his young son.

At first, Jesus is skeptical, believing the man is just looking for one of those signs and wonders he’s heard about. But the official persists: “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus relents, and tells him that his son will live. Since this gospel is all about belief, John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.” (50)

He encounters his servants running up to him before he arrives home. As Jesus had promised, his son has been healed and his servants tell him that the son began recovering at exactly the same time Jesus told him that his son would live. Once again, driving home his theme of belief, John tells us, “so he himself believed, along with his whole household.” (53)

I think John’s point about this remote control healing is that the physical Jesus, who was certainly not available to John’s community, nor to us, is not what’s required to experience Jesus’ healing power. But belief certainly is.