Psalm 18:16–24; Genesis 29:15–30:24; Matthew 11:1–10

Originally posted 1/29/2016—revised and updated 1/29/2018

Psalm 18:16–24: A flood follows the thunderstorm, but God’s arrival on earth was no ordinary storm as
the channels of water were exposed,
and the world’s foundations laid bare
from the Lord’s roaring,
from the blast of Your nostrils’ breath.” (16)

This is not the serene and quiet God we encounter in places like Psalm 23, but much more the sturm und drang God which the author of Revelation exploits to such great effect.

Following this description of God’s dramatic entrance, our poet turns to his primary theme: David’s rescue as he is apparently drowning in the flood, but this does not quench his imagination. Astride the angel, God swoops down and God rescues David from this metaphorical flood of a hopeless situation:
He reached from on high and took me,
pulled me out of the many waters.
He save me from my daunting enemy

and from my foes who were stronger than I.” (17, 18)

Even though David was hopelessly outnumbered,
and they came at me on my day of disaster,
the Lord became my support.” (19a).

In contrast to the tumult of thunder, lightning, and flood, David finds gentle peace as God “brought me out to a wide-open space,
set me free, for His pleasure I was.” (20)

This is exactly what God can do for us if, like David, we let him. So often, our lives have become a hopeless tangle and we feel surrounded by evil and relentless forces that will crush us. But instead of feeling helpless and hemmed-in, God will bring us to a “wide-open space” that is the natural metaphor for freedom. For us Christians, that is freedom in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But in the deuteronomic framework of the OT, David’s rescue comes because he has earned it by righteous living and hewing to the law and Covenant:
The Lord dealt with me by my merit,
for my cleanness of hands He requited me.
For I kept the ways of the Lord
and did no evil before my God.
For all His laws were before me.
From His statutes I did not swerve.
And I was blameless before Him,
and I kept myself from crime.” (24)

There’s a certain defensiveness in this repeated assertion of how well David followed God’s law. I am grateful that we live under the terms of the New Covenant of grace and forgiveness because of Jesus’ sacrifice. That’s not to say I don’t endeavor to “keep myself from crime,” but I know I will fail again and again. Jesus may not will swoop down and rescue with such a dramatic gesture as our poet describes, but I know that whether my circumstances are desperate or benign, I can confess and Jesus will forgive and rescue me.

Genesis 29:15–30:24: Jacob has fallen deeply in love with Rachel, and her father, Laban, extracts a promise from Jacob to work for him in order to win her hand. Finally, after seven years, Laban makes good on the deal. But on the night the marriage is  consummated, Laban tricks Jacob, sending in older daughter Leah, instead. Clearly these things happened in the dark because Jacob exclaims, “When morning came, it was Leah!” (29:25). Jacob is understandably angry at Laban, “Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (29:26) Laban rather coyly explains that the older daughter has to be married off before the younger Rachael and extracts an agreement from Jacob that if he gets Rachel now, he is to work for yet another seven years. So deeply does Jacob love the younger daughter that he agrees to do this and loses no time in consummating the marriage: “Jacob went in to Rachel also.” (29:30)

In one of those grand ironies that abound in life, “When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.” (29:31) Laban bears Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Since a woman’s worth was defined by her ability to bear children, Rachel is deeply unhappy: “she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”  (30:1) Jacob responds angrily that it’s not his fault she was barren (and it really wasn’t his fault since he’d already proved his virility through Leah). So Rachel offers Jacob her maid Bihlah, whom Jacob promptly impregnates. His son Dan and later, Napthali arrive via the servant girl.

In the meantime, Leah realizes she has become barren and offers her maid Zilpah to Jacob, who bears Gad and Asher. There’s an odd transaction involving mandrakes, which were considered an aphrodisiac, and Jacob lies once again with Leah, who bears a fifth son, Issahar, and a few months later, Zebulun. Oh, and a daughter as well: Dinah.

In a wonderful turn of phrase, “Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb.” (30:22) This child by Jacob is Joseph. But never quite satisfied, Rachel, in bearing Joseph, says, “May the Lord add to me another son!” (30:24). Of which more later.

This story is told in detail because the authors are outlining the ancestral roots of each tribe of Israel. But they are reminding every Israelite that while he or she has the same ancestral father they have one of four different ancestral mothers. Which would be a way of explaining some of the inter-tribal and battles later on in Israel’s history.

At first, multiple wives and concubines may seem very strange to our monogamous culture. But today, many men and women have become increasingly serially monogamous where the same mother may bear children by multiple fathers. And the same passions of envy and disappointment around sex, virility and childbearing are still very much with us.

Matthew 11:1–10: Jesus was clearly not one of those teachers or professors who just expounds on a theory or seeks to communicate his vast knowledge and understanding and remain in the safety of his ivory tower. He is the exemplar of what it means to practice what he preaches: “Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.” (1) Which is an awfully difficult thing for Christians like me to emulate. I’d much rather remain in the safety of the community, expounding on theological niceties rather than going out among the poor and broken bringing not just Christ’s message of compassion but demonstrating that compassion.

By this time, Jesus’ fame and notoriety had spread to the followers of the better-known John the Baptist. John’s followers come to check out the competition and ask if he’s the “the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (3). As usual, Jesus does not actually answer the question directly, but asks them to examine the evidence: Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (4,5) And in his beautifully indirect way, he communicates to John’s followers that he is no competitor to John: “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (6)

Obviously, this dialog took place rather publicly because Jesus rises to an eloquent defense of John—both his person and his rather tough message: What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes?” (7,8) He reminds them of John’s role as prophet (“forthteller”) by again quoting Malachi: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,/ who will prepare your way before you.’” (10) Once again and always, Jesus allows the people to draw their own conclusions about just who that may be. But we have to believe that the evidence of who Jesus is was not lost on the crowds any more than it was lost on John’s disciples.

But that’s how Jesus operates, isn’t it? He neither pushes his agenda nor makes pronouncements about who he is. He always wants us to look at the evidence and draw our own conclusions for ourselves. But he will always demand that we do so honestly and without denial.

 

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