Psalm 87; Deuteronomy 28:58–29:21; Luke 10:1–16

Originally published 7/19/2016. Revised and updated 7/19/2018

Today is Susan’s and my 49th wedding anniversary.

Psalm 87: This psalm celebrates the permanence of the temple at Jerusalem compared to all God’s temporary dwellings that have preceded it:
His foundation on the holy mountains—
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
 (1b, 2)

One begins to suspect this psalm was written by a poet employed by the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce:
Splendid things are spoken of you,
O town of God.
 (3)

He reenforces his personal pride of being a native-born Jerusalemite by listing the other nations who do not have Jerusalem in their midst:
Look, Philistia and Tyre together with Cush,
—this one was born there.
 (4)

We’ll take “this one” as self-referential as he goes on to make his point about the overall superiority of Jerusalem (called Zion in the psalm) by suggesting that every person in Israel has Jerusalem in his blood:
And of Zion it shall be said:
every man is born in it,
and He, the most High makes it firm-founded.
” (5)

The intent of this verse carries over today at Jewish sedars where the the toast is always,  “Next year in Jerusalem!”

In the next verse, the poet positions God as supreme record keeper, making it clear again that it is better to have been born in Jerusalem than anywhere else:
The Lord inscribes in the record of peoples:
this one was born there.
 (6)

Finally, of Jerusalem, “singers and dancers alike:/ [will say] ‘All my wellsprings are in you.‘” (7) Here, “you” is not God, but Jerusalem itself. I’m sure this celebratory psalm is read enthusiastically today by any Jew who visits Jerusalem—and Christians, too.

Deuteronomy 28:58–29:21: Moses’ warnings of the consequences of disobedience by Israel continue apace. And those consequences are dire: “Although once you were as numerous as the stars in heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God.” (28:62) The consequences will not only be decline, but dissolution of the nation itself: “The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other;” (28:64).

Things will be equally ominous at an individual level, “Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life.” (66) And then the final humiliation: the degraded Israelites will attempt to return to slavery but because they have become worthless human beings,”you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” (28:68)

The precision of these imprecations once again strongly suggests to me that this book was written centuries afterwards at a time when Israel had indeed been diminished and scattered by Assyria in the north and later by Babylon in the south.

Apparently there is a brief respite from the curses of the previous chapter as Moses once again, “Summoned all Israel.” (29:1) Once again he reviews all that Israel has experienced over the past 40 years, asking the people to consider how close God has been and how God has protected and sustained them: “The clothes on your back have not worn out, and the sandals on your feet have not worn out; you have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink—so that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” (29:6,7)

Now, following all this, the time has come for Israel to take a formal oath of obedience “to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, sworn by an oath, which the Lord your God is making with you today.” (29:12)

But the oath must be sincere and from the heart; otherwise it is worthless. And woe betide “All who hear the words of this oath and bless themselves, thinking in their hearts, “We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways.” (29:19) Insincerity inevitably results in disaster: “All the curses written in this book will descend on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven.” (20)

This of course is a good reminder that grace was not part of the Old Covenant and how grateful I am to be under the terms of New Covenant through Jesus Christ. However, it is also a reminder that we must turn over our entire heart to him. Like ancient Israel we cannot think that Jesus’ grace is some sort of holy insurance policy. We cannot think pridefully, “We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways.”

Luke 10:1–16: Here we learn that in addition to the “inner circle” of 12 disciples, Jesus has plenty of other dedicated followers. He commissions seventy of them to go out in pairs and do the prep work needed before Jesus arrives at a new town. But it’s an inherently dangerous task since as we learned in yesterday’s reading they will not necessarily be well received: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (3)

Interestingly, the emissaries are to go only to one house in the village and announce themselves by saying “‘Peace to this house!’” And if the homeowner responds in kind, that’s where they are to remain. If they are welcomed, “eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (8, 9)

The other key part of the mission is not to waste time in places where the message is rejected. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that these places where the Kingdom of God is rejected “it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town” (12) when the day of judgement arrives.

The Jewish towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida have apparently already rejected Jesus’ message, as he points out that had he taken his message successfully to the Gentile towns of Tyre and Sidon. Had Jesus’ message been accepted in the Jewish towns, “they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (13) Perhaps most startlingly of all, even Capernaum, Jesus’ headquarters, is also cursed: “will you be exalted to heaven?/ No, you will be brought down to Hades.” (15)

The reason for the curse—apparently a long tradition, tracing its way back to Moses in Deuteronomy(!)—is simple as Jesus lays it out in a clear logic chain: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (16) Rejecting the word of Jesus’ missionaries is the same as rejecting Jesus and therefore rejecting God himself.

Luke’s intent here, I think, is to demonstrate how those in his community who want to the news about the Kingdom are to be properly commissioned, and then providing precise instructions on how to carry out their missionary activities. Good order is essential in carrying out the  Great Commission. There is nothing random about bringing the Good News to the world. I think we can argue that Paul and his associates (Silas, Barnabas, etc.) executed these instructions fairly well. Unfortunately, missionaries down through history have not always complied with Jesus’ instructions all that well.

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