Psalm 18:1–6; Genesis 27:30–28:9; Matthew 10:17–25

Originally posted 1/26/2016—revised and updated 1/26/2018

Psalm 18:1–6: Instead of the usual terse introduction such as “a psalm of David,” our psalmist provides us the precise setting in which this psalm was sung by David [or, as I suspect the case of most “David psalms,” written much later by another poet to make it appear it was sung by David]. Moreover, this psalm is essentially the Song of David that is recorded in 2 Samuel 22, which Alter suggests is the older one and the literary source of this psalm.

Here, in the first verse the poet tells us who, “for the lead player, for the Lord’s servant, for David;when, “who spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day the Lord saved him;” and what happened, “from the grasp of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” (1)

This translation of the psalm opens with “I am impassioned of You, Lord, my strength,” which is even stronger than the NRSV’s more reserved, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”  Alter tells us that the word for “impassioned” is used only here in the Bible. I much prefer “impassioned” because it connotes an ardor that is really stronger than mere “love.” It’s easy to talk about “loving God” in the same way we say, “I loved that movie.” But to say we are “impassioned” is to indicate an even deeper commitment that makes love all the more real and profound.

The third verse of this psalm includes some of the most famous metaphors in all of Psalms:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (3)

A rock is solid and trustworthy, unlikely to break apart. Rocks are also objects we hide under when we are in deepest danger. God is not just a safe hiding place he is also an active rescuer. The verse’s metaphors make this clear with a profusion of military images: shield, horn [as in the horn of battle to signal the troops to attack], and a fortress [“stronghold].

Verse 4 tells us that the theme of this psalm is David’s [and our] praise and thanksgiving for rescue:
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
so shall I be saved from my enemies.” (4)

The psalmist goes on to describe David’s dire straits using a metaphor of being bound and trapped with a rope or chains to the point of death:
The cords of death wrapped round me,
and the torrents of perdition dismayed me.” (5)

In this perilous state, David cries out—”In my distress I called upon the Lord“—and he is confident that God heard him:
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.” (6)

In the end, it is the assurance that undergirds David’s pleas—and so too for us. If we have the faith of David we know deep down inside that God will hear us no matter our circumstances.

Genesis 27:30–28:9: Our authors do not hesitate to raise the dramatic stakes  of Jacob’s ruse by describing a close call: “when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of his father Isaac,his brother Esau came in from his hunting.” (27:30). Esau prepares “savory food” and brings it to his father, who now realizes what happened and he “trembled violently.” (27:33) “When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me also, father!” (27:34) But a blessing is a one time thing. It cannot be retracted and given to its rightful recipient.

Esau remembers what Jacob has now done twice to him: “he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.” (27:36) Again, Esau pleads, “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.” (27:38) Isaac tells Esau that the blessing given to Jacob cannot be undone and gives Esau a rather enigmatic benediction, which is clearly not a blessing: “By your sword you shall live,/ and you shall serve your brother.” (40a) 

Furious, Esau vows to kill Jacob once Isaac dies. Rebekah discovers this and tells Jacob to flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away.” (27:44) Here, we see ever-optimistic Rebekah, who has played a key part in the deception, and rather self-centeredly tells herself, “Why should I lose both of you in one day?” (27:45) Then, she goes into Isaac, who apparently is unaware of her role in the ruse. In one of the great non sequiturs in the Bible, she tells Isaac that she hopes Jacob will not marry one of the local Hittite women.

Apparently convinced by Rebekah that what’s done is done, Isaac blesses Jacob a second time and instructs his son, ““You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women.” (28:1) Instead he is to marry a cousin: “take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.” (28:2) Jacob leaves, apparently never again to see his father or mother.

In the meantime, Esau also marries into the family: a certain Mahalath, who is the “daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael” (28:8), which would make her his step-cousin.

Why all this drama? It’s clear that the family has been torn apart by each parent playing a favorite–Rebekah to Jacob, Isaac to Esau–and to put it bluntly, Rebekah’s desire to have everything her way. What’s fascinating is that these dysfunctional and broken relationships reveal the same qualities of human nature almost four millennia ago that we see replicated around us today.

Matthew 10:17–25: Jesus continues to warn his followers of the high cost of discipleship. One has the feeling that Matthew is editorializing to his listeners here, who themselves have probably endured some of the trials described here. Matthew’s Jesus says, “you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them [the Jews] and the Gentiles.” (18) This is a perfect description of what happened to Paul in Jerusalem being taken before the Roman governor. The other seeming contradiction is that earlier, Jesus has charged his disciples not to preach to Gentiles.

Jesus goes on to instruct his disciples [and us] on how to respond to these show trials: “do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.” (19) Rather, in one of those confluences of the Trinity: Jesus speaking and referring to the Holy Spirit, we are to allow the “Spirit of your Father [to be] speaking through you.” (20) Being a Jesus follower will not just rip families apart, it will cause death, which I suspect Matthew is well aware has already happened among his followers. Jesus warns, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” (21) These are certainly uncomfortable verses to those of us who prefer a more gentler Jesus. Yet, this kind of persecution is occurring all over the world today. Jesus did not sugar-coat faith.

Where Jesus said earlier to “wipe the dust from your feet” and move on from those places that reject the Kingdom message, he is now driving home the cost of being a Jesus follower in the starkest possible terms: “you will be hated by all because of my name.” (22a) The clear lesson for us here is that true discipleship is all about endurance through hardship: “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (22b)

The question for us in the 21st century is, will we be willing to endure hardship and ridicule as Jesus-followers as American culture continues its inexorable slide away from the shared Judeo-Christian values that once held this country together as we slide into the abyss of sheer individualism and intolerance in the name of “tolerance?”

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