Psalm 83:1–9; Deuteronomy 17:8–18:22; Luke 8:1–15

 Originally published 7/8/2016. Revised and updated 7/9/2018

Psalm 83:1–9: Unlike most psalms of supplication asking for God’s intervention on behalf of the individual, this psalm is one of national supplication praying for the entire nation of Israel. It beseeches God with imperative urgency to speak:
O God, no silence for You!
Do not be quiet, God.
 (2)

God needs to make himself known because these are not just enemies of Israel, but the enemies of God himself. They are threatening the very nation with which God has established his covenant:
For look, Your enemies rage,
and those who hate You lift their heads.
 (3)

In this time of national emergency our psalmist points out to God that evil plans are afoot against his own people who God has promised to protect:
Against Your people they devise cunning counsel
and conspire against Your  protected ones.
 (4)

The enemies threaten nothing less than annihilation of Israel itself:
They have said: “Come let us obliterate them as a nation,
and the name of Israel will no longer be recalled
. (5)

Perhaps even worse is that the enemies have created their own formal covenant with each other as allies in contradistinction to the Covenant between God and Israel:
For they conspired with a single heart,
against You they sealed a pact—
 (6)

To make sure God gets his point that this is no vague generalized threat, our poet lists exactly who the enemies are:
the tents of Edom and Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,
Gebal and Ammon and Amalek
Philistia with the dwellers of Tyre.
Assyria, too, has joined the,
has become an arm for the sons of Lot.
 (8,9)

There is something about specifically naming one’s enemies that makes them all the more real and lends credence to their threat. It is also facing up to reality rather than remaining in denial about some vague generalized threat.

This specificity is a lesson for us who live in what appears to be a rapidly deteriorating American culture. As Christians it’s essential to name the threats that surround us and our nation. Unfortunately, it seems that our national enemies are not other nations that threaten us, but ourselves. We are so anxious for individual justice that we have forgotten the necessity of seeking communal justice. Our prayer becomes the psalmist’s prayer: Do not be mute and do not be quiet, God.”

Deuteronomy 17:8–18:22: We can call these portions of Moses’ long sermons the creation of the national constitution of Israel as he establishes the institutions and practices necessary to a coherent and cohesive nation. His instructions regarding the obedience to a judge’s decision of judges is exactly what we apply in jurisprudence today: “You must carry out fully the law that they interpret for you or the ruling that they announce to you; do not turn aside from the decision that they announce to you, either to the right or to the left.” (17:11) In fact, one purpose of judges is to instill fear and respect, so that “All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.” (13) That, on the other hand, seems to be less the case today…

We encounter another passage where the authors barely disguise the fact they are putting words into Moses’ mouth as they write several centuries later. The rules and limitations of kingship are written in such detail that it’s clear the authors have experienced personally the consequences of a corrupt king. There is a warning that the king cannot be a foreigner, nor can he acquire so many horses (a stand-in, I presume, for military strength) that he takes on Egypt in war “since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” (17:16) Moreover, the king must not seek excess wealth defined as many wives, silver or gold. Rather, “he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests.” (17:18) All of this is a dead giveaway that the authors seek to remind their own contemporary king of his responsibilities and limitations.

Chapter 18 again reviews the privileges of Levites and priests. All the first fruits go to the Levites because “the Lord your God has chosen Levi  out of all your tribes, to stand and minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons for all time.” (18:5) Once again another clear indication that our authors were indeed priests!

The come warnings and prohibitions against child sacrifice, witchcraft, and divination: “No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead.” (18:10, 11) As the text clearly states, “whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord.” (18:12) Happily, these practices are remain generally anathema today, practiced only on the fringes of society.

Finally, and again in something of a non-sequitur, Moses predicts that “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” (18:15) Anticipating the reasonable question about how to discern whether or not this person is a true prophet he tells us, “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken.” (18:22) Of course, as Israel’s history will prove, the people basically ignored prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah. And this question of prophetic discernment is still with us today. People who claim to be prophets need to be tested by the criteria outlined here.

Luke 8:1–15: Among the gospel writers it is Luke who gives women both starring (Elizabeth, Anna, Mary) and supporting roles, as he does here. In addition to the disciples, there is “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others.” (2, 3a) Moreover, it is the women who provide financial support: “who provided for them out of their resources.” (3b) This is a fascinating and all too brief glimpse into a society where we assume all women were basically furniture. Luke is telling us that there were successful women as well. Above all, though, it is also a glimpse into Jesus’s heart since these women range from the formerly demon-possessed like Mary to the wealthy like Joanna. Luke is reminding us that Jesus accepts everyone, male and female, regardless of their station in life.

Jesus then tells the parable of the sower, which befuddles everyone, including the disciples. When he’s alone with the twelve, he tells them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables,” (10a) At first glance he then seems to contradict his entire ministry of bringing good news by asserting, “looking they may not perceive,/ and listening they may not understand.’” (10b) But all Jesus is doing is through the parable and then by this clear statement that not everyone who hears the Gospel will accept it and therefore accept Jesus for who he really is.

Jesus goes on to explain the parable in detail. There are four categories of people:

  • Those who the devil “takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” (12)
  • Those who are initially enthusiastic but fall away quickly as soon as they encounter personal difficulties. (13)
  • Those who place the things of the world and the pleasures of life in higher priority. (4)
  • Finally, those who, “when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” (15)

The question is, into what category do I fit? Have I “borne fruit with patient endurance?” Many days I doubt it.

 

 

 

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