Psalm 58; Leviticus 26:1-35; Mark 8:22-38

Originally published 5/5/2014. Revised and updated 5/4/2018

Psalm 58  Alter warns us “that the Hebrew text of this psalm, from this verse to the end, with the sole exception of verses 7 and 11, is badly mangled.”  So, we should probably not read deep theology into this rather ferocious psalm about the “wicked [who] backslide from the very womb, the lie-mongers go astray from birth.” (3) In perhaps the direst imprecation in the entire book of Psalms, there is the psalmist’s wish for punishing violence:
God, smash their teeth in their mouth.
The jaws of the lions shatter, O LORD.
” (7)

The psalmist’s anger at wickedness is so immense that after the smashing, the wicked should not only disappear as water evaporating in the sun, but the wicked should experience even greater punishment:
“Let them melt away, like water run off.
Let Him pull back His arrows so they be cut down.” (8)

But that is insufficient. In the loathsome simile the wicked are, “Like a snail that moves in its slime.” (9) And perhaps cruelest simile of all:
[Like] a woman’s stillbirth that sees not the sun,
before their thorns ripen in bramble,
still alive and in wrath rushed to ruin. (9, 10)

Our psalmist will certainly enjoy the downfall of the wicked:
The just man rejoices when vengeance he sees,
his feet he will bathe in the wicked one’s blood. (11)

Notice, however, that the psalmist is observing God’s vengeance on the wicked; he is not taking vengeance himself because he knows that
Man will say, ‘Yes, there is fruit for the just.
Yes, there are gods judging the earth. (12).

This psalm makes it abundantly clear that righteous anger is not a sin.  With the psalmist we can certainly be angry at the wicked, and angry at God. But in the end there is the bedrock assurance that the wicked will fail and then fall.  Because it is God who is “judging the earth.”

Leviticus 26:1-35  This great chapter is God’s summary of the fruits and rewards of keeping the Covenant that he has established with His people; its terms and conditions, if you will.  It’s all really quite straightforward: “If you go by My statutes and keep My commands and do them,” (3) numerous blessings will follow, including rain, trees that yield fruit and fields that yield grain. Grain that in turn becomes bread. (5)  If they “will lie down with none to cause terror, and I shall make evil beasts cease from the land , and no sword will pass through your land.” (6).  And they will win battles even when greatly outnumbered. (7)  They will multiply in number and therefore strength: “ I will look with favor upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you.” (9) Above all, God will fulfill his promises if the people fulfill theirs: “I shall be God to you, and as for you,  you will be My people. (13)  God asks only one thing in return :strict obedience.

But in the face of Israel’s disobedience the converse is also true: “if you do not heed Me and do not do all these commands, and if you reject My statutes and if you loathe My laws, voiding My covenant, I on My part will do this to you:” (14)  And a long list of really bad things, including cannibalism, follows. And what God will do is not just a simple quid pro quo of bad things, but punishment is multiplied: “My part will chastise you sevenfold for your offenses.” (29)  This is God’s promise of a reversal of the Sabbath, “All the days of the desolation it shall keep a sabbath for not having kept your sabbath years when you dwelled there.” (35)

This is God’s deal. Unfortunately, we know what Israel did.

Mark 8:22-38  In his healing of the blind man of Bethsaida, and then sending him “away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village,” (26) we sense that Jesus feels his healing powers and growing popularity could result in a movement that too easily could become a revolution, which would certainly derail the divine plan God and he are pursuing.  So, too, when Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah, he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.” (30)  [Notice also, that unlike Matthew, Mark does not include any kind of other exchange between Jesus and Matthew about rocks and his Church.]

The reasons for silence and not fomenting a revolution become clear in Mark’s next passage. Jesus has a divine plan:  “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (31)  A story so crazy, so absurd that Peter takes him aside and “rebukes him.”  

Mark does not tell us what Peter said, so we can only speculate.  I’ve always thought it was Peter telling Jesus of his unfailing loyalty, and that Jesus could never contemplate dying. That may be so, but I also think Peter may have tried to encourage Jesus to go ahead and foment that revolution. He may have argued that given Jesus’ increasing popularity, now was the time to strike politically.  I can hear him saying, ‘Forget that business about dying and rising.  Let’s strike while the iron is hot.’  For me, that is what lies behind Jesus’ rebuke that “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (33)

We are all Peter.  Because we always seem to want Jesus to do what we’ve outlined for him to do. As humans, our minds are almost always set on human things. Which is why when viewed in human terms the story of Jesus coming to earth, dying and rising from the dead is just so patently absurd.

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