Psalm 133; 1 Kings 15:9–16:14; John 18:1–11

Psalm 133: This psalm reminds me of an idyllic landscape paining by someone like the French painter Millet, as our psalmist looks down on this peaceful scene occupied by farmers resting after a hard days work, admiring the fruits of their labor. It celebrates the harmony of a group that has toiled together on a common task: “Look, how good and how pleasant/ is the dwelling of brothers together.” (1)

A striking simile of gentle anointing follows: “Like goodly oil on the head/ coming down over the beard.” (2a) And it’s a certainly a full, bushy beard: “Aaron’s beard that comes down/ over the opening of his robe.” (2b) While I personally am not ready to have my head and (non-existent) beard drenched in oil, there’s no question that this is a calming, peaceful practice of cleansing at the ned of a hard day’s work, reminding us that Sabbath rest is just as important as daily work.

The oil simile receives its own simile: “Like Hermon’s dew that comes down/ on the parched mountains,” (3) amplifying the image of verdant peace and quiet rest. And behind it all is God: “For there the Lord ordained the blessing—/ life forevermore.” (4) This peace and harmony is a wonderful description of the worry-free life that awaits us “forevermore” because we have rested in the arms of a loving God.

1 Kings 15:9–16:14: At long last, Judah enjoys the benefit of 41 years of being ruled by a righteous king: “Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his father David had done.” (15:11) He even demotes his own mother from being queen mother “because she had made an abominable image for Asherah.” (13) While the “high places” were not removed, and thus we presume that idol worship continued, “Nevertheless, Asa was true to the Lord all his days.” (14)

But the battles between Judah and Israel continues. Asa establishes an alliance with king Ben-hadad of Syria at Damascus, and both armies take on Israel. Attacking from the north, they subdue Israel’s king Baasha, who gives up his plans for building strong fortifications at Ramah.

Stepping back in time a bit, our authors reveal that Jeorboam has (finally) died and his son Nadab  continues Israel’s evil practices. Nadab is quickly overthrown by Baasha,  who promptly eliminates the Jeroboamic dynasty, apparently instructed to do so by God through the prophet Ahijah:  “He [Baasha] left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed,…according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite—because of the sins of Jeroboam that he committed and that he caused Israel to commit, and because of the anger to which he provoked the Lord, the God of Israel.” (15:29, 30) This is a stark reminder that the leader has a higher responsibility to those whom he leads. The house of Jeroboam is destroyed not only for its own sins, but for having led an entire nation astray.

The reason is simple: Baasha and the nation of Israel have continues to sin mightily. The prophet Jehu brings Baasha the bad news directly from God: “I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam, and have caused my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins.” (16:2) Baasha dies and his son Elah takes the throne, reigning for a mere two years before a palace coup headed by a certain Zimri assassinates 27-year old Elah. As God had promised, the house of Baasha is wiped out.

As far as our authors are concerned, kings who fail to set an example of following God as David did are the root cause of defeat and death. With the exception of Asa, self-centered, egotistical leaders seem to be genetically incapable of following God.

John 18:1–11: Jesus is betrayed by Judas in the Kidron valley at an unnamed garden—which from the Synoptics we know to be Gethsemane. Our gospel writer omits Jesus’ agonizing Gethsemane prayer—probably because Jesus has just prayed a much more upbeat and philosophically rich prayer with the disciples in the upper room. Unlike the Synoptics, John’s Jesus is far more spiritual and seemingly exempt—up to this point anyway—from the pain and agony of the flesh.

In John’s account, Jesus confronts Judas and simply asks (obviously knowing the answer already), “Whom are you looking for?” (4), They reply “Jesus of Nazareth” and Jesus calmly responds, “I am he.” (5) Of course for this gospel writer, these three words are fraught with far greater meaning than simply identifying himself to a bunch of soldiers. Judas must sense that the completion of the sentence would be “whom the Father has sent,” because he faints and falls to the ground, doubtless realizing the enormity of his sin.

The same dialog between Jesus and the soldiers is repeated again, word for word. This time though, Jesus adds, “if you are looking for me, let these men [the disciples] go.” But Peter cannot leave without a fight on behalf of his master and promptly cuts off the right ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus tells Peter to sheath his sword. As I read this Jesus’ instructions to Jesus are not because he necessarily disapproves of Peter’s impulsive act but because it might foil the sequence of events that are about to follow: “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (11)

For our gospel writer, Jesus never questions his fate but is fully cognizant of the purpose for which he was sent to earth by God. John’s Jesus has never doubted what he is to do and approaches his fate with otherworldly equanimity.

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