Psalm 17:8–15; Genesis 27:1–29; Matthew 10:1–16

Originally posted 1/25/2016—revised and updated 1/25/2018

Psalm 17:8–15: Having asserted his righteousness before God, our psalmist arrives at the central purpose of his prayer, which is to be rescued from his enemies:
Make Your mercies abound, O rescuer of those who shelter
from foes at Your right hand.” (7)

As if to make sure God gets his point, he devotes another verse to the necessity of God’s protection:
Guard me like the apple of the eye,
in the shadow of Your wings conceal me
from the wicked who have despoiled me,
my deadly enemies drawn around me.” (8, 9).

Since this is a “David prayer,” we can visualize David surrounded by Saul’s army or perhaps when after he has become king, he is surrounded by conspirators in his court. In any event, there is a real undercurrent of desperation here. But our poet is not so desperate that he avoids penning one of more memorable descriptions of one’s enemies:
Their fat has covered their heart.
With their dewlaps they speak haughty words.” (10)

This image of a fat-covered heart and fat-covered faces speaking brings the image of Charles Laughton or Sidney Greenstreet of Humphrey Bogart movie fame to mind. Or more recently, Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars. It is an arrogant and threatening indolence which David faces—suggesting that his enemies are probably court conspirators.

The poem’s aspect turns darker as it appears David faces a mortal threat from those who lust after the king’s power:
My steps they hem in,
their eyes they cast over the land.” (11)

One individual in particular is after him:
He is like a lion longing for prey,
like the king of beasts lying in wait.” (12)

Realizing the enormity of this threat, David’s supplication shifts from seeking God’s protection to seeking God’s action in annihilating his enemies:
Rise, Lord, head him off, bring him down,
save my life from the wicked with Your sword,
from men, by Your hand, from men,

from those fleeting of portion in life.” (13, 14a)

After all, David seems to argue, these evildoers are mere humans of little long term consequence to God since they do not follow God’s path of righteousness as he does. Once those enemies are taken care of, David can at last worship God in peace and safety:
As for me, in justice I behold Your face,
I take my fill, wide awake, of Your image.” (15)

Once again, the question for us is, can we pray for the destruction of our enemies? Based on what Jesus has said, the answer is clearly ‘No.’ Having turned our desires for God to wreak vengeance on our enemies upside down, we are to love these same enemies that the psalmist wishes to be destroyed. Nevertheless, we can still seek what David seeks in the last verse: to see God’s justice and wide awake, to reflect on God’s face.

Genesis 27:1–29: We come at last to the infamous story of the purloined fatherly blessing. Isaac is old and almost blind. He asks his favorite son, Esau, to go hunt some game for a last dinner: “prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.” (4)  Esau leaves to go hunting. With the older brother out of the house, as the conspiracy commences.

Rebekah turns to her favorite son and tells him “I heard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food to eat, that I may bless you before the Lord before I die.’” (6,7) So Jacob brings two fresh goats, which Rebekah prepares for Isaac’s dinner. However, Jacob is not sure this trick will work because he lacks the body hair that Esau has. Jacob fears he will be cursed rather than blessed if Isaac uncovers the scam. Rebekah famously clothes Jacob in goat skin on his arms and neck. Jacob goes in to his father with the savory meat.

But Isaac is still suspicious. Dinner is arriving too early and the old man asks, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” (19) Jacob compounds the deception by lying to the point of bringing God into the deception, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” (20) Isaac feels the goat skin on Jacob’s arms but is still suspicious: “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” (22) Despite this inconsistency, the ruse works and Isaac asks, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” (26) and then pronounces the blessing which is probably one that was given to every eldest son in that culture:
   “Let peoples serve you,
       and nations bow down to you.
   Be lord over your brothers,
       and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
   Cursed be everyone who curses you,
       and blessed be everyone who blesses you.” (29)

In our egalitarian society it is difficult to imagine the sheer importance and power that the right of primogeniture combined with the power of the fatherly blessing bestowed on the eldest son. The final blessing was essentially a last will and testament. The father has spoken. There can be neither amendment nor revocation.

But what does this story have to do with us? Why does deception lie at the heart of this story–and therefore at the heart of Jacob’s descendants, who become the nation of Israel? I believe the authors are telling us that deception has consequences. Some are good, such as the rise of Israel. Others are far less good. As we will find out, Jacob himself becomes the object of a deception by his own sons. God’s justice is definitely a two-edged sword as deception becomes a running theme through the remainder of tGenesis.

Matthew 10:1–16: By this time, the roster of Jesus’ inner-circle disciples is complete and Matthew helpfully lists them all. For some like Thaddeus, this mention is their single claim to fame in the gospel. Another will be infamous down through history: “and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” (4)

A brilliant leader, Jesus knows that spreading the word about the Kingdom of heaven requires human commitment and participation. He sends the twelve out on as independent agents to minister only to the Jews and to do exactly what he has been doing himself: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” (7, 8a) This is not a paying job: “You received without payment; give without payment.” (8b) This mission is not a job; it is a calling. Paul of course amended Jesus’ instructions when he stated that pastors and leaders should be paid.

One of the most important thing Jesus says here–and what we need to remind ourselves about again and again–is that our mission will never be 100% successful. Many who hear will reject the opportunity to know Jesus. Moreover, we should not to waste time on hopeless cases: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” (14) Of course, those who reject Jesus and the Kingdom of God will get theirs in the end: “Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (15)

Finally, just because we are doing God’s work does not mean we leave our brains at the door of the church. Jesus knows there are many risks surrounding this mission and we must not be foolhardy enthusiasts. People will always be trying to do Jesus’ messengers harm—and we see that today where the Church is persecuted and Jesus followers are killed by terrorists and churches burned to the ground.. Therefore Jesus gives perhaps the wisest advice in the gospels about how we are to go about his risky and often dangerous business: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (16)

We are to be merciful and kind on the outside, but also we must constantly be alert to danger. It would be good to see more Christians remember what Jesus said as they too often battle foolishly and unsuccessfully as innocent doves in the culture wars of our time when being wise as serpents in terms of strategy could lead to far more successful outcomes.

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