Psalm 88:1–6; Deuteronomy 29:22–31:8; Luke 10:17–24

Psalm 88:1–6: This is one of those psalms dedicated to a specific group and person about whom we know nothing, although he may have been a famous personage around the temple, perhaps a choir leader or a poet:
A song, a psalm for the Korahites, for the lead player, on the mahalath, to sing out, a maskil for Heyman the Ezrahite. (1)

In any event, it’s a psalm of supplication. Although our psalmist does not feel God has abandoned him, he nonetheless wants God to hear him as he beseeches God both day and night—which is how I often feel:
Lord, God of my rescue,
by day I cried out,
by night, In Your presence.
May my prayer come before You.
Incline Your ear to my song. (2, 3)

This last line—incline Your ear to my song—suggests that we can pray by singing, which for this musical psalmist was probably the way he felt assured that God would indeed hear him.

Regardless of whether or not he’s praying by singing, there’s little question he is feeling oppressed by life—almost to the point of death:
For I am sated with evils
and my life reached the brink of Sheol. (4)

In fact, in the next two verses he seems almost obsessed by death as he uses virtually every synonym for dying—and that his death is inevitable in the near term:
I was counted among those who go down to the Pit.
I became like a man without strength,
among the dead cast away,
like the slain, those who lie in the grave,
whom You no more recall,
and they are cut off by Your hand. (5, 6)

The most horrible fate he can imagine is to be permanently separated from God, which to observant Jews is what the “Pit” and “Sheol” were all about. The issue is not that he is dead, but that he will never be close to God again.

Deuteronomy 29:22–31:8: The shame brought on by disobedience to God is a major theme of this Moses speech. Imagine, he is telling them, what the effect of their downfall will be on other nations who ask, they and indeed all the nations will wonder, “Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused this great display of anger?” (29:24) Even those nations that do not follow God will logically deduce the reason for Israel’s destruction: “They will conclude, “It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (29:25) Moreover, even those nations will understand the nature of Israel’s sin: “They turned and served other gods, worshiping them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them.” (29:26) The sin of apostasy deeply angers God, thus, “The Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, fury, and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as is now the case.” (29:28)

But our authors, masters of psychology that they were, conclude Moses’s seemingly endless disquisition on a positive note—reminding them once again of God’s tremendous promise if they but obey and “return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you.” (30:2) Moreover, God will “again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (30:9, 10) 

Moses reminds them that obeying God is not some far off abstraction, but in the here and now—in our hearts: “this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, …Neither is it beyond the sea, … No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” (30:11-14)

For me, that is the key message of Moses’ interminable sermon: God is close to us and following him is not about going to heaven or becoming a missionary overseas. It is all about our quotidian lives: how we follow Jesus on a daily basis. Moses says it well. We have a stark choice in how we live. And Jesus, I think echoing Moses here asks us to “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” (30:19b, 20)

And on that note, “Moses had finished speaking all(!) these words to all Israel.” (31:1) and he appoints Joshua as his successor: “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (31:7,8) Could there be any better, more encouraging words than these at the commissioning of Israel’s next great leader? Or any better words for us?  

Luke 10:17–24: The seventy followers that Jesus sent out to towns and villages return  enthusiastically, telling him, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (17) Jesus is understandably happy at their success, reminding them that this was not done under their own power, but his: “I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.” (19) This verse has led some fundamentalists to over-interpret Jesus’ words too literally and believe they can handle poisonous snakes as a form of worship—too often to their great detriment. Unfortunately these folks seem to have ignored Jesus’ statement in the next verse that being able to work miracles is not the point; rather, it is to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (20)

The success of the seventy has brought great joy to Jesus, and we encounter one of those Trinitarian moments where Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are juxtaposed: “Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (21) Luke is also reminding us that the power of Jesus is not to be confused with earthly power. Just as Paul points out in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Christianity is incomprehensible to the “wise and intelligent”—and that reality is certainly on full display in our own time and culture!

Instead, the power of God and the power of Jesus are revealed to those whom society discounts and ignores: “For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (24) And down through history, every time Christianity has been conflated with the “wise and intelligent” and those in power, its effectiveness has stifled. I think this is why even today Christianity flourishes among the poor and downtrodden and the oppressed while it is discounted by the intelligentsia who think they are the ones with deeper insights into social reality—just as we are seeing today in too many mainline denominations who wish to conform to the mores of the predominant culture.

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