Psalm 21; Genesis 37; Matthew 13:24–35

Originally posted 2/8/2016—revised and updated 2/7/2018

Psalm 21: This royal psalm follows logically from the preceding psalm. Here, we read of the king’s (presumably David) response to his rescue from defeat and then being victorious in battle—and how he gives God the credit as God has answered his desperate pleas:
Lord, in Your strength the king rejoices,
and in Your rescue how much he exults!”
His heart’s desire You gave to him,
and his lips entreaty You did not withhold.” (2, 3)

God indeed answers foxhole prayers—our “lip’s entreaty”—when we are in desperate trouble. But what’s clear here is that God’s answer can be much more than simply rescue. God’s response has been far, far greater:
For You met him with blessings of bounty,
You set on his head a crown of pure gold.” (4)

And while the king simply asked to spare his life in battle, God has has not only done that, but has rewarded him with a long life:
Life he asked You—You gave him,
length of days for time for time without end.” (5)

Which is exactly what Jesus Christ has given us: we have asked for life through baptism and we are rewarded with eternal life. We can do no better than the psalmist in praising God for how much more he gives us than we dare ask for:
You granted him blessings forever,
cheered him with the joy of Your presence.” (7)

The question is, why do I not come to God in prayer in total faith that he will answer with the same almost unimaginable generosity that he bestowed on David? One reason is because I so often lack real trust in God and would rather do it on my own. But David is our example here as the psalmist answers the question hanging in the air:
“For the king puts his trust in the Lord.” (8a)

The second half of the psalm abruptly changes tone, suggesting that this psalm is concatenation of two shorter psalms. Now, we see the darker side of both the king and of God himself as the poet speaks of the fate of the king’s enemies:
You [God] will make them like a fiery kiln
in the hour of Your wrath.
The Lord will devour them in anger
and fire will consume them.” (10)

The palm disturbingly bends toward genocide:
Their [the enemy’s] fruit from the land Your destroy
and their seed from among humankind.” (11)

Yes, David’s enemies have committed the sin of plotting against a king who trusted in God and
evil they plotted against you
devised schemes they could not fulfill.” (12)

And they will pay a high price for their treachery:
For you [the king] will make them turn back,
with your bowstring you aim at their face.” (13)

But does God really empower us to destroy our enemies utterly if we pray for that to happen? This is one of those uncomfortable places in the OT where we have to admit we live in a very different culture than David. Jesus certainly changed the rules of the game.

Genesis 37: The story of Joseph the favored son is certainly one of the most memorable stories in the OT. Just as Jacob—now Israel—was favored by his mother, Israel favors Joseph “because he was the son of his old age.” (3) He gives his favorite son the infamous coat, (which is described by the NRSV as simply a coat with long sleeves.)

Being only 17 years old and demonstrating the impetuousness of his youth, he excitedly tells his older brothers of his very cool dream of sheaves of wheat bowing down to his own sheaf. There is already enmity toward Joseph and the brothers immediately interpret Joseph’s latest creation in the darkest possible wmanner: “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” Not surprisingly, “they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.” (8)

Jospeh has yet another dream about ” the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” (10a) Even Jacob is unimpressed when Jospeh tells him the dream and Jacob incredulously replies, “Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” (10b)

This is the final straw and the older brothers plot to kill him. They get their chance out in the boondocks, but demonstrating a scintilla of mercy, Reuben advises them not to kill Joseph, but simply to strip him and leave him the pit. It does not appear that Reuben had any follow-on plan about what to do with Joseph, but it seems clear that fratricide made Reuben squeamish. Judah comes up the clever plan, What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites.” (26) And, like Reuben, he shows a modicum of humanity in not killing, noting “he is our brother, our own flesh.” (27) Besides there’s a handsome profit to be made. Reuben is unaware of the sale of Joseph to the Ismaelites and comes back only to find an empty pit. In despair, he devises the infamous plan to soak Joseph’s coat in blood and show the manufactured evidence to their father.

Jacob (interestingly, at this point the authors revert to ‘Jacob’), on hearing the news goes into deep mourning and we are told that in the meantime, “the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.” (36)

So what are we to make of this story other than it being a tale of intense sibling hatred and as always, another chapter in a highly dysfunctional family where even the victims have contributed to the problem (Joseph’s bragging and Jacob’s favoritism)? As Christians, this story has clear parallels to the arc of the Jesus-as-Joseph story. Jesus is left for dead, but is resurrected “out of the pit.” And as we shall see, in the same way Joseph becomes the powerful ruler to whom all will bow down, just as Revelation tells us that the Lamb that was Slain becomes the object of worship.

Matthew 13:24–35: Matthew’s Jesus, having explained why he uses parables, now presents us with a slew of them.

The parable of the weeds among the wheat seems to be saying to us that we are not the ones who are to judge who among us is weed and who is wheat. That task is left up to the end and it is the master makes the judgement. In short, tempted as we may be, we cannot judge who is “Christian” and who is not—although those of us in the church are assuredly adept at this. Only God will make that judgement at the end of time. Jesus takes this up later in the Olivet discourse and Revelation is certainly chockablock with End Times judgement.

The mustard seed parable tells us that great things can grow out of improbable beginnings. Many of the great Christian leaders—Paul being and obvious example—have emerged from inauspicious beginnings. Examples abound down through history; William Wilberforce is among my favorites.

The parable of the yeast suggests that the kingdom of heaven will grow over time. That the church continues 2000 years later is testimony to the power of the leavening of the Good News among humanity.

And finally, just in case we forgot, Matthew quotes another OT Scripture to remind us that parables will be the main mode of communication by the Messiah to come. It is through seemingly obscure parables that truth is ultimately revealed: “I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” (34) And that proclamation is of course that he has come from God to save all humankind.

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