Psalm 68:1-7; Numbers 9:15-10:36; Mark 12:35-44

Originally published 5/21/2016. Revised and updated 5/21/2018

Psalm 68:1–7: The author makes it clear that this longish psalm is a hymn of praise to a triumphant God, perhaps written following a particularly satisfying military victory:
Let God arise, let His enemies scatter,
and let His foes flee before Him.” (2)

As always, there’s the what I’ll call the Great Dichotomy: the followers of God versus the enemies of God, who are by definition wicked. Needless to say, the psalm wishes for God to do bad things to their enemies, here with similes of smoke and and especially creative image of melting wax:
As smoke disperses may they disperse,
as wax melts before the fire,
may the wicked perish before God.” (3)

While on the other hand, the God-followers, who are by definition comprise the righteous will have a celebration:
And may the righteous rejoice and exult
before God, and be gladdened in joy.” (4)

The psalm then moves into full worship mode as the image of God riding the clouds makes it clear that he is above all creation:
Sing to God, hymn His name.
Pave the way for the Rider of Clouds,
For Yah is His name, and exult before Him.” (5)

But God is not just “up there” riding some cloud chariot far from humanity. God is active among his people and this hymn reminds us that God intervenes not only on behalf of armies and the powerful, but also among the orphans and widows—an overriding theme of the OT. But perhaps most significantly (for me, anyway) God comforts the  lonely:
Father of orphans and widows’ judge,
God in His holy abode.
God brings the lonely back to their homes,
Sets free captives in jubilation.” (6, 7a)

Nor will our psalmist will ever let us forget that God punishes those who do not follow him: “But the wayward abide in parched land.” (7b)

As is always the case in the Psalms, God acts on behalf of the righteous, among whom the widows, orphans, and now the lonely are always included. God cares for the weak and powerless. As should we…

Numbers 9:15-10:36  Now that it is set up and good order established, the Cloud shows up and hovers over the Tabernacle.  The movement of the cloud/nighttime fire is the commanding signal for the ongoing journey of Israel.  And there is a certain unpredictability as how long the cloud–and therefore Israel–would stay at any one location.  The key point is that Israel followed the Lord’s leading: “By the LORD’s word they would camp and by the LORD’s word they would journey onward.” (9:20)

I’m sure all of us have wished for such a definite sign from God when it comes to the decisions of life: that we would know when to camp and when to move on. But the cloud also reminds us that it is God who should be leading our own lives in terms of the choices we ultimately make.  At a more pragmatic level, though, this passage about the cloud sets up the narrative that will follow the peregrinations of Israel in the remainder of this book.  All is ready for the journey.

In another one of those passages where we are impressed by the level of detail in which God involves Himself, the basic signaling devices–two silver trumpets–are fabricated and then the meaning of various signals is set out.  Again, details that point to the historicity of the wilderness journey.  Mere fiction would not take the time to lay out the precise order of march, including where the groups carrying the pieces of the Tabernacle fit in, nor would the meaning of the various signals sounded on the silver trumpets, including the call to battle, “you shall let out a long blast with the trumpets and be remembered before the LORD your God and be rescued from your enemies.” (10:10)

And a reminder to us that God never forgets, but always remembers us, too.

Israel leaves the foot of Sinai and we hear the Song of the Ark (or as Alter suggests, perhaps only the opening lines of that song):

“as the Ark journeyed on, that Moses would say, “Rise O LORD, and Your enemies scatter, and Your foes flee before You!”

and when it came to rest, he would say,  “Come back O LORD to Israel’s teeming myriads.””

Mark 12:35-44  Although the scribes are afraid to ask him any more questions, Jesus is not finished with them just yet, as he continues to point out their theological errors, this time about the relation between David and the Messiah and that the Messiah cannot possibly be David’s literal son.  Mark records the reaction of the crowd rather than the scribes.  The “large crowd was listening to him with delight.” (37)  

Delight, I imagine, not just at the truths Jesus was revealing but that he was putting these theological know-it-alls, who doubtless lorded their superior knowledge over the hoi polloi, into their rightful place.  

But wait, there’s more.  As Jesus points out their scribal hypocrisy: that somehow their superior knowledge has earned them the right to “walk around in long robes, and be greeted with respect in the marketplace.”  How easy it is for us who know a couple of theological truths to strut in the same practiced superiority. 

Jesus basically seals the deal with the scribes by promising them the “greater condemnation.”  Mark doesn’t need to describe the scribes reaction to this statement.  We know it: barely suppressed outrage.   As we’ve observed before, it’s almost as if Jesus continues to goad officialdom in order to ensure they make good on their threats by the end of this most significant week.

Another one of Mark’s juxtapositions follows:  Immediately following his condemnation of the haughty scribes, he praises the widow with two mites.  As we all learned in Sunday School, two mites trumps “large sums” because while others “contributed out of their abundance,” it is all she possessed.

But there is more here: there is the humility of the widow pitted against the haughtiness and hypocrisy of church officialdom.  As we see frequently in the OT, widows and orphans are always accorded special protection by God–and we all have a duty, which the scribes had clearly forgotten, to protect them.

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