Psalm 91:1–8; Joshua 8:30–9:27; Luke 12:49–59

Originally published 8/1/2016; Revised and updated 8/1/2018

Psalm 91:1–8: This magnificent psalm, which celebrates God’s all-encompassing protection, includes one of the most famous lines in the entire Psalms:
I say of the Lord, ‘My refuge and bastion,
            my God in whom I trust.’” (2)

The idea of God as trustworthy protector must have been a radical concept in an era when surrounding cultures worshipped and sacrificed even their children in their futile attempts to propitiate their terrorizing small-g gods.

Our poet’s God is everything small-g gods are not: shelter, protection, truth. Metaphorically like an eagle, God is protector because he is truth:
With His pinion He shelters you,
and beneath His wings you take refuge.
A shield and a buckler, His truth.” (4)

Our psalmist is not content to say merely that God is his protector and leave it at that. Rather, he goes on to provide examples of this protection by using marvelous contrasts that demonstrate the enormous extent and quality of God’s shelter and how it eliminates fear.  First, there is protection from enemies, real and imagined:
You shall not fear from the terror of the night
nor from the arrow that flies by day,

And there is protection from disease:
…from the plague that stalks in darkness
nor from the scourge that rages at noon
. (6)

Even when surrounded by disaster, God, in whose voice our poet is now writing, remains our faithful protector in the famous line:
Though a thousand fall at your side
and ten thousand at your right hand
you it will not reach. 

And, unlike so many psalms of supplication, which bemoan the apparent success of the wicked, here is God’s promise that the wicked will not prevail in the end:
You but look with your eyes,
and the wicked’s requital you see
. (8)

In other words, those enemies will get what’s what they so richly deserve.

These verses have brought encouragement to all who suffer down through the age, Simply reciting the words of these opening verses is a both a reminder that God loves us and is a healing balm to our fearful souls.

Joshua 8:30–9:27: Joshua is not only the political and military leader of Israel, he has replaced Moses as its spiritual leader as well. Having conquered two cities—Jericho and Ai—Israel enjoys a brief respite as Joshua fulfills God’s command to Moses inscribe the Law on “the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written.” (9:32). Were these simply the Decalogue or the seemingly endless details of the law that consume most of the book of Deuteronomy? I prefer to think it was simply the Decalogue. Otherwise it would be an awful lot of carving!

This task of renewing the Covenant is performed in front of all “Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” (33a) As God had commanded Moses, half of the population stood “in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal.” (33b)

Joshua reads “all the words of the law, blessings and curses,” (34) which this time I take to be the entirety of Deuteronomy because our authors make sure to inform us that “there was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel.“(35) This would amount to a several hour sermon, through which the people stood. No comfy pews for them…

Most of the tribes inhabiting Canaan become allies and “gathered together with one accord to fight Joshua and Israel.” (9:2) The exception is the Gibeonites, who try a cunning ruse. They dress in worn-out clothes and sandals and come to Joshua, saying, “We have come from a far country; so now make a treaty with us.” (9:6) They bamboozle the leaders, including Joshua. The leaders “did not ask direction from the Lord.” (14)  and fall for the ruse. Israel concludes a treaty with them only to find out they live in the neighborhood, just a three-day journey away.

However, there’s not much Israel can do since “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we must not touch them.” (19) So they let them live and “became hewers of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, as the leaders had decided concerning them.” (21)

This is the first thread that will lead to the unraveling of God’s command to destroy all of Canaan’s inhabitants. Done in by a clever trick. But I’m relieved to know that an oath sworn to God trumps military action and killing people. And my sympathies tend to go with the Gibeonites, who deserve some credit for their cleverness.

Luke 12:49–59: Jesus gives a fire and brimstone sermon—which is more than mere metaphor:  I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (49) Luke tells us that Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (51). My take on the harshness of these words is that Jesus’ audience is not the usual hoi polloi, but certainly Pharisees, Sadducees, and other officials. Needless to say, this division is exactly what happens in the early church—as Paul so vividly describes in letter after letter—and it’s certianly the case today. I’m also pretty sure that Jesus’ words resonated within Luke’s community as well since we have already seen Luke hinting at dissension.

True Christianity is too often mistakenly seen by outsiders as a “religion of peace.”  But it is much more than that. Jesus makes it clear that following him will divide families:
father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (53)

Just as it has divided communities and nations throughout history.

Nevertheless, Jesus excoriates his audience for not “getting it” about the real impact of his message and his presence on earth: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (56) And that is true today, even though many Christians think it’s all about interpreting current events as indicators of end times. It has always been “end times.” Ever since Jesus was here.

Finally, Jesus suggests working out disagreements among each other, advising against litigation: “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right.” Involving the formal legal system is all too likely to have negative consequences: “when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison.” (58)

If nothing else, avoiding litigation  saves money by not having to pay lawyers or bribe judges: “I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” (59)

There is certainly nothing gentle about Jesus and his impact on history. And I can’t say he was all that happy with the legal system, which was abusively used against him at his own “trial.” Even Pilate saw that.

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