Psalm 132; 1 Kings 14:21–15:8; John 17:20–26

Psalm 132: Alter informs us that this psalm is a poem about David’s efforts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to its final resting place in Jerusalem as described in 2 Samuel 6-7.  It was not an easy task:
Recall, O Lord, for David
all his torment
when he swore to the Lord,
vowed to Jacob’s Champion” (1,2)

[Alter calls the Ark “Jacob’s Champion;” the NRSV calls it “the Mighty One of Jacob.”]

But David was a man of his word, especially before God, and our psalmist indulges in a bit of poetic hyperbole here, (since we assume David did in fact sleep while undertaking this task) as his David swears,
I will not come into the tent of my home,
I will not mount my couch,
I will not give sleep to my eyes
nor slumber to my lids
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling for Jacob’s Champion.” (3,4,5)

But we get the point. David certainly dedicated his all to accomplishing this (to mix metaphors) Herculean task.

The verses that follow suggest that the psalm is not contemporaneous with the event, but a fondly recalled memory throughout Israel: “Look, we heard of it in Ephratha,/ we found it in the fields of Jaar.” (6) Regardless, the Ark’s arrival in Jerusalem is a time of national celebration and a focus of pilgrimage: “Let us come into His dwelling,/ let us bow to His footstool.” (7) The Ark rests at the center of Israel’s existence and purpose as the hymn rises heavenward:
Rise, O Lord, to Your resting-place,
You and the Ark of Your strength.
Let Your priests don victory,
and let Your faithful sing gladly.” (8,9)

But at the moment all is not well. Israel has sinned, doubtless its usual worshipping of other small-g gods and now is repentant as it begs God to remain David’s oath to God becomes God’s oath to David:
For the sake of David Your servant,
do not turn away Your anointed.
The Lord swore to David
a true oath from which He will not turn back.” (10, 11)

The psalmist shifts to God’s voice, reminding Israel (and us) of the terms of the Covenant between David and himself: If David’s progeny also obey God, then “their sons, too, evermore/ shall sit on the throne that is yours.” After all, God continues, “The Lord has chosen Zion [Jerusalem],/ He desired it as His seat.” (13)

And if God remains at Jerusalem, wonderful things will happen: “its priests I will clothe in triumph,/ and its faithful will surely sing gladly.” (16) The psalm concludes on a triumphantly hopeful note: “His enemies I will clothe with shame,/ but on him [David and presumably, his successors]—his crown will gleam.” (18)

1 Kings 14:21–15:8: Meanwhile, down south in Judah, Rehoboam ascends the throne of David at age 41. Alas, this corrupt king had drifted far from God and was a poor example of leadership, “Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their ancestors had done.” (14:22) Which is saying something… Judah’s sins included male temple prostitutes and having failed to rid Canaan of all its inhabitants centuries before, Israel absorbed evil practices: “they committed all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” (14:24)

Needless to say, God is p.o.ed and allows Judah to be invaded. King Shishak of Egypt “took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house; he took everything.” (26) Rehoboam’s guard is reduced to shields of bronze rather than Solomon’s shields of gold. On top of this there is endless internecine warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, further reducing the once great united kingdom under Solomon. Thus do empires crumble.

Rehoboam dies before Jeroboam, so a guy named Abijam takes the throne in Judah. Solomon’s grandson is just as bad as his father: “He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the Lord his God, like the heart of his father David.” (15:3) Our authors, being the David partisans they are, remark that “Nevertheless for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem,” (15:4) which is to say he was allowed to rule. The authors have more to say about David than Abijam, who is basically a deeply wicked non-entity: “David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” (15:5) Abijam dies after a brief but destructive three-year reign.

Up next: Solomon’s great-grandson, Asa.

John 17:20–26: Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer is not just for the disciples, but (this being the gospel that’s all about belief) for all persons who believe, including us two millennia later: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” (20)

Jesus also prays for the unity of believers: “that they may all be one.” (21) And then more forcefully, “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (22, 23) Alas, 2000 years later, the church is fully divided within itself, having both added added to and taken away from what Jesus said. But above all, having forgotten Jesus’ words about love. While there are certain ecumenical movements underway and more common ground is being agreed to, I fear the church will remain divided for centuries to come unless there is an unstoppable outbreak of love for each other. But I am not optimistic.

We must never forget that the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ and that Jesus is the exemplar of what Christian love is all about. In the end Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit is pure love: “I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (26) Absent real love the church is a mere Potemkin village.

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