Psalm 92:1–9; Joshua 10:29–11:23; Luke 13:18–30

Originally published 8/3/2016; Revised and updated 8/3/2018

Psalm 92:1–9: This hymn celebrates God’s eternal power as the centerpiece of worship and as in many psalms, the subject of the hymn is God’s two overriding qualities of kindness and faithfulness:
It is good to acclaim the Lord
and to hymn to Your name, Most High
to tell in the morning Your kindness,
Your faithfulness in the nights,
on ten-stringed instrument and on the lute,
on the lyre with chanted sound.
 (2-4)

In fact, the psalmist assets, our fundamental purpose as God’s created beings is to worship him:
For You made me rejoice, Lord, through Your acts,
of the work of Your hands I sing in gladness.
” (5)

Following this introduction, the psalm turns to the contrast between the depth of God’s works as over against those of the wicked who inevitably seem successful. What we know of God is but a scintilla of his actual being:
How great Your works, O Lord,
Your designs are very deep
. (6)

I think we should reflect at length on this couplet. Rather than being like the psalmist who accepts God’s unknowable depth, we tend to spend too much time trying to figure out God and why he does certain things but fails (in our eyes, anyway) to do other things. It’s all a futile effort. As the psalmist tells us, we should but bask in his kindness and faithfulness.

The psalmist compares God’s depth against the superficiality of the wicked:
The brutish man does not know,
nor does the fool understand this:
 (7)

And what is ‘this?’ It is the sheer brevity of our existence. While we’d like to think the wicked are the ones who live on successfully, our psalmist reminds us that
the wicked spring up like grass,
and all the wrongdoers flourish—
to be destroyed for all time
. (8)

The wicked are metaphorically grass that grows high and seems to be taking over the earth, but then is mowed down—or as the case in California, is destroyed by fire. By contrast, God is everlasting:
And You are on high forever, O Lord.
…for, look, Your enemies perish,

all the wrongdoers are scattered.” (9, 10)

In this era of seeing the rich and powerful enjoy their success and set up foundations by which they attempt to be remembered, we know their efforts are merely ephemeral. Only God endures.

Joshua 10:29–11:23: The authors present us a catalog of Israel’s military successes under Joshua’s leadership.

  • Libnah
  • Lachish
  • Gezer
  • Eglon
  • Hebron
  • Debir

These battles in which there are no survivors ensure that “Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings; he left no one remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.” (10:40)

With the southern portions of Canaan defeated, Joshua turns his attention to the north. These armies—”the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah.” (11:3)—are far more powerful than the ragtag bands they defeated in the south. The kings unite as a single force and form “a great army, in number like the sand on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots.” (11:4)

We sense Joshua’s and Israel’s potential discouragement when they see the size and strength of the army they now have to fight, “the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will hand over all of them, slain, to Israel; you shall hamstring their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.” (11:6)

Despite the strength of the forces arrayed against them, they are victorious: “all the towns of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took, and struck them with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded.” (11:12) Success is clearly the result of obedience, as the authors note: “As the Lord had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” (11:15)

The remainder of the chapter summarizes Joshua’s conquests: “There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle.” (11:19) As always, our authors give all credit to God being on their side: “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (11:20)

The taking of Canaan is complete; it is now wholly Israel’s “And the land had rest from war.” (11:23)

So, do these descriptions of battles fought and won reflect actual history? Inasmuch as Israel came to occupy the land, there’s no question Israel conquered Canaan at some point—although it’s not impossible that Joshua’s exploits are more fiction than fact. What we have to question is God’s involvement, which frankly I take as a later addition inserted by the victors to make sure everyone knew that God was on their side. We see traces of this even today when we hear of “American exceptionalism” and with every politician’s empty rhetoric including the shopworn phrase, “God bless America.”

Luke 13:18–30: Luke turns his attention to Jesus’ parables that describe the qualities of the Kingdom of God. In the parable of the mustard seed that grows from barely visible seed to giant bush, Jesus predicts the growth of the kingdom into something great. Which is certainly what happened to the church in the first centuries of its existence. To emphasize his point about growth, he then compares the Kingdom to yeast that causes bread to expand.

Although the Kingdom will grow, it will not include everyone, and especially one nation in particular. Obviously, this question of who is very much on the mind of Jesus’ followers, as “Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” (23) As he does so many times, Jesus uses metaphor to remind us that the Kingdom is not entered into casually or half-heartedly. Entrance is “through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” (24) He goes on to emphasize this exclusivity, implying that at the end of history, many will “knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’” (25)

Jesus makes it clear that the one who will be knocking but not admitted is Israel itself: “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.” (28)  Luke’s Jesus tells us quite clearly that the people who will be populating the Kingdom are Gentiles: “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” (29) The Jews, who despise the Gentiles, and see themselves as God’s chosen people, will lose their pride of place. Worse, those whom they despised will be the ones entering the kingdom as Jesus utters the final damning answer to the question of who will occupy the Kingdom: “Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (30)

The question is, of course, are we like the Jews of Jesus time or are we willing to enter through the narrow gate of Jesus Christ himself?

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