Psalm 22:22–28; Genesis 40:1–41:16; Matthew 14:1–14

Originally posted 2/11/2016—revised and updated 2/10/2018

Psalm 22:22–28: At last, God has responded to the psalmist’s pleas: “And from the horns of the ram you answered me.” (22) And in the joy of rescue, his greatest desire is to tell the good news to others and to worship God—and to encourage all Israel to worship God:
Let me tell Your name to my brothers,
in the assembly let me praise you.
Fearers of the Lord, O praise him!
All the seed of Jacob revere Him!” (23, 24)

Our response to God’s answering our prayers is a public event: it is better that all should rejoice together with us. This is exactly Jesus’ point in the parable of the Prodigal Son: when the prayers of the father are answered and his long lost son returns, he throws a party for everyone, even inviting the bitter brother.

In keeping with the great underlying theme of the Old Testament, our psalmist again points out that God is especially in favor of the poor, among whom he counts himself:
For He has not spurned nor despised
the affliction of the lowly,
and has not hidden His face from them;
when he cried out to Him, He heard.” (25)

God has heard his (and our) prayers and answered; now it is time to respond and for God to hear our praise, especially the poor:
For You—my praise in the great assembly,
My vows I fulfill before those who fear him.
The lowly will eat and be sated.
” (26, 27a)

But above all else, if we search for God we will find him because he’s already here—and he never left:
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
May you be of good cheer forever.” (27b)

For a psalm that began in the depths of abandonment with the cry to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” it has ascended through every woe to reach the highest heights of praise and adoration. Not just for the psalmist; not just for his friends and those around him; but for the entire world:
All the far ends of the earth will remember
and return to the Lord./ All the clans of the nations
will bow down before You.” (28)

This psalm ascends from the depths of despair to the heights of praise. Its structure resembles the act of Jesus Christ himself: from death to glorious resurrected life.

Such is the rhythm of our lives as well. If we are willing to pray to God in our times of deepest despair, we will hear God’s answer, and even if the answer is not the one we think we want, God has heard and responded. And that response is always worthy of our praise.

Genesis 40:1–41:16: There’s a wonderful symmetry in Joseph’s story. It was his dreams that became the root cause to his brother’s hatred and caused him to become a slave who ends up in a foreign prison. And now it is his dreams that effect his rescue and ultimately, his ascension to becoming the power behind the Pharaoh’s throne. This ascent begins inauspiciously while he is still in prison. The Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker have offended Pharaoh, who casts them into prison. Joseph shows up one morning [he apparently has free run of the prison] and asks the two, “Why are your faces downcast today?” (40:7) They answer they’ve each had a memorable dream but have no one to interpret them. Joseph volunteers to interpret them, but not before the all-important step of giving God the credit for what he is about to do: “And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” (8)

The cupbearer explains his dream and Joseph tells him the good news, “within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand,” (13) He also asks the cupbearer to put in a good word for him to the Pharaoh, although we learn a bit later that “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (22) Encouraged by this favorable interpretation, the baker asks Joseph to interpret his dream, too. The implication of the baker’s dream is pretty grim: he will be hanged within three days, and that is exactly what happens.

It appears that everyone in Egypt is dreaming. The Pharaoh dreams the famous dream of seven fat cows and the seven thin cows who eat the fat ones. The dream repeats itself in the form of seven “ears of grain, plump and good” (41:5) that are swallowed up by seven thin ears of corn. The usual crowd of court magicians are unable to interpret the dreams. At last, the cupbearer finally remembers Joseph, who interpreted the cupbearer’s and baker’s dreams correctly. We have to give the cupbearer some credit here. He says,“I remember my faults today,” (41:9) at least feeling bad for a while about having forgotten about Joseph.

Joseph is hauled out of the dungeon; they clean him up and he appears before Pharaoh.  The Pharaoh tells Joseph, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” (15) The key point of the story this far is that Joseph tells the Pharaoh exactly what he told the cupbearer and baker: “Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (41:16)

And that is the lesson for us. Whatever great works we are able to do, it is God who has given us wisdom, insight, and strength. This is the consistent theme of the entire Joseph story: He understood he was man of unwavering faith in God and that no matter what he was able to accomplish, it was God who enabled him. And it was God who deserves the credit. Something we should remember when we are able to accomplish significant things in our own lives.

Matthew 14:1–14: This grisly story of the fate of John the Baptist at the hands of Herodias’ daughter and wife speaks to us at several levels. First, there is the moral stupidity of Herod, so taken by the infamous dance of the daughter that he grants her any wish—more proof that men too often think with their penis instead of their brain. Manipulated by Herodias’ wife—the same wife after whom Herod lusted— the daughter asks for John’s head. Even though Herod was anxious to be rid of John, he had not executed the prophet because of his inherent cowardice: “[Herod] feared the crowd, because they regarded [John] as a prophet.” (5) Herod’s moral cowardice is amplified by his response to the daughter’s request. Even though he was “grieved,” he carries through and executes John because he as made a stupid promise and does not wish to appear weak or vacillating before his guests—and certainly not before his wife and daughter.

We all have been Herod. Perhaps not as dramatically or with such fearful consequences, but I know have acted as a coward when challenged about my faith. There have been too many times when rather than offending my guests I’ve failed to speak up for Jesus.

This story also gives us a very clear picture of the extremely hostile atmosphere in which Jesus was operating. Matthew is clearly suggesting that if John came to a bad end for his prophecy, how much worse will be Jesus’ fate given his far more powerful words and deeds—and his unsurpassed ability to offend the religious leaders of Israel.

Matthew does not tell us what Jesus says when he hears of John’s death. We learn only that “when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” (13a) We have to assume it was to mourn the loss of a great friend and to reflect on the fate that he knew doubtless awaited him. This is a poignant reminder of Jesus’ very human nature that included the ability to weep and mourn.

But the crowds were relentless, and “they followed him on foot from the towns.” (13b) Even in the midst of Jesus’ deep mourning he remains fearless, and “he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” (14) Would I ever be able to reach out in compassion even when we ourselves are in pain? The clear message seems to be that we must if we wish to follow Jesus’ example.

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