Psalm 17:1–7; Genesis 26; Matthew 9:27–38

Originally posted 1/24/2016—revised and updated 1/24/2018

Psalm 17:1–7: Unlike many psalms of supplication where the poet seems to be shaking his fist at the heavens wondering why God has abandoned him, this “David prayer” opens gentlly and introspectively:
Hear, O Lord, a just thing.
Listen well to my song.
Hearken to my guileless prayer.” (1)

To me, a “guileless prayer” is one without an overt agenda, much more a quiet conversation with God. But gentleness is not wimpiness. Our psalmist recognizes that God is the source of judgement:
From before You my judgement will come,
Your eyes behold rightness.” (2).

And he knows that God discerns our every thought even when we are asleep:
You have probed my heart, come upon me by night.” (3a) But that is OK because the psalmist knows he is innocent of wrongdoing: “You have tried me,/ and found no wrong in me. (3b). In fact, he has consciously worked to avoid wrongdoing by what he says to others: “I barred my mouth to let nothing pass.” (3c) Here we have another reminder of one of the key themes of Psalms: speech as a primary means of wrongdoing.

He asserts that his actions are as pure as his speech:
As for human acts—by the words of Your lips!
I have kept from the tracks of the brute.” (4)

‘Brute’ here would suggest other evil persons and perhaps in the David story, the psalmist is referring to Saul’s relentless hunt to kill David.

Despite our psalmist’s pure speech and correct actions, he is wise enough to know he cannot do this on his own. He prays for God’s guidance:
Set firm my steps on Your pathways,
so my feet will not stumble.” (5)

The lesson here for us is that we are aware that our proper actions do not arise from within us but come because we walk closely with God. Like the psalmist, when we walk next to God, we have assurance that he will answer when we call: “I called You, for You will answer me, God.” (6a) But regardless of our proximity to God it’s still important for us to ask him to “Incline Your ear, O hear my utterance.” (6b).

With this preamble that describes the qualities of a right relationship with God, our psalmist begins to move to the issue at hand. He faces tangible danger and seeks not just God’s guidance but also his protection:
Make Your mercies abound, O rescuer of those who shelter
from foes at Your right hand.” (7).

So, too, for us: God is indeed our protector in a hostile world.

Genesis 26: Isaac is an acorn that did not fall far from his father’s tree. There’s a famine, and Isaac is advised by God not to head to Egypt but to “reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.” (3). God repeats the core promise of the Covenant as well: As God promised Isaac’s father, “ I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands;… because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (4, 5)

Also like his father, Isaac tells the people around him that his wife Rebekah is his sister, thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.” (6) The ubiquitous Abimelech, quite aware of this particular ruse used by Abraham, cuts immediately to the chase. He chastises Isaac, pointing out that “One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” (10) He wisely “warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.” (11)

Isaac is a successful farmer and “he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy.” (13). The Philistines become envious and Abimelech asks Isaac to“Go away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” (16) Isaac heads off to the valley of Gerar where a well digging program proves successful, “but the herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, saying, “The water is ours.” (20) Rather than dispute water rights, Isaac moves on and eventually finds water at Rehoboth, so named because at last, “the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” (22)

The ever-popular (at least to the authors of this story) Abimelech reappears and Isaac understandably is none too cordial: “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” (27) Nonetheless, the Philistine king pursues the diplomatic initiative, recognizing that “the Lord has been with you,” and therefore asks Isaac to swear an oath that “you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace.” (29) Isaac assents and throws a party for Abimelech. Even better, another successful well is dug right there on the spot.

So, why all this business about wells and water? In that part of the world water is a precious commodity that usually ends up being fought over. But also for us Christians water comes to mean life because water is also the medium of baptism—representative of the saving grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. In the end, we cannot survive much less prosper without both physical and spiritual water.

However, this chapter ends on the sour note of family discord. Esau marries not one, but two Hittite women and the three of them “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” (34) We can be sure that this short note is here to provide additional justification for Isaac’s motivation to get back at Esau by buying his birthright.

Matthew 9:27–38: Jesus continues his healing program, this time healing two blind men and a mute. Once again, healing comes through faith as Jesus asks,“Do you believe that I am able to do this?” and the two blind men answer, “Yes, Lord.” (29) They are healed and “Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” (30). Needless to say, the healing has the opposite effect and “they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.” (31)

What’s with Jesus ordering those who are healed not to spread the news? Obviously, he knew that despite his remonstrations, that’s exactly what these joyous newly-healed people would do. Is he using reverse psychology in order to get the word about his miracles out into the wider public quickly? Living today as we do, surrounded by press releases, fake news, and flackery it’s easy to think that’s what Jesus was doing. However, I think the real reason that Jesus is instructing these people not to tell—even though he knows they will tell—is to establish himself as a very different kind of healer than his competitors.  At the time jesus is ministering, there were all kinds of mystics floating around in his day claiming to be the Messiah and even appearing to heal people. They sought all the publicity they could get–not unlike today’s televangelists who perform “healing”—and there’s nothing quite as dramatic as physical healing miracles.  Jesus is not interested in publicity; he interested in changing lives.

Despite Jesus’ best efforts to keep his healing power under wraps, word gets out. And when Jesus heals the mute man by casting out demons, word get to the Pharisees, who immediately conclude he is satanic: “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” (34) Which, if one is highly religious as the Pharisees were, is not an entirely unreasonable conclusion.

Since we know how Jesus’ story turns out, (as do Matthew’s readers), we know that that fuse among the Pharisees and religious officials has been lit by Jesus’ dramatic acts of kindness.

Matthew pulls the camera back to give us a wide angle view, telling us, “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (35) Matthew also describes the state of the people among whom Jesus ministers: “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (36). Jesus is carrying out the ubiquitous mandate in the Scriptures he knew so well: that we are to care first for the poor and oppressed and for the widows and orphans.

Reminding us that Jesus is human, Matthew tells us that Jesus is physically tired. He asks the disciples to pray, asking “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (38) And that is a clear challenge to each of us reading this. Will we pray for more laborers in the Kingdom? Will we go out and find these folks ourselves and help with the enormous task of harvesting souls who are lonely and lost?

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