Psalm 92:10–16; Joshua 12:1–13:7; Luke 13:31–14:6

Originally published 8/4/2016. Revised and updated 8/4/2018

Psalm 92:10–16: Our psalmist, barely able to disguise his glee, writes how God’s enemies receive their just desserts as God looks on:
For, look, Your enemies, O Lord,
for, look, Your enemies perish.,
all the wrongdoers are scattered
. (10)

Alongside God, our poet witnesses their destruction as well:
And my eyes behold my foes’ defeat,
those hostile toward me, my ears hear their fall.
 (12)

Unlike the enemies, who are ephemeral grass that withers and dies, the righteous man, i.e., the psalmist and his like, are metaphorically deep-rooted trees that reach to heaven:
The righteous man springs up like the palm tree,
like the Lebanon cedar he towers.
 (13)

Trees are of course immovable; they grow where they are planted. And these magnificent trees grow in just one place:
Planted in the house of the Lord,
in the courts of our God they flourish.
 (14)

There is a masculine virility in the nature of this flourishing:
They bear fruit still in old age,
fresh and full of sap they are.
 (15)

The message is clear: even in our old age we remain “fresh and full of sap” when we are “planted” near God. And even in old age we bear glad witness to what God has done for us:
to tell that the Lord is upright,
my rock, there is no wrong in him.
 (16)

How much better it is to be God’s tree—our lives planted firmly near him— than withering grass that denies the reality of God—and then dies without hope.

Joshua 12:1–13:7: Our authors provide a complete summary of the territory and associated kings “whom the Israelites defeated, whose land they occupied beyond the Jordan toward the east, from the Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon, with all the Arabah eastward.” (12:1) Ever striving for accuracy, the authors are careful give Moses credit for the territory on the east side of the Jordan River that became “a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh” (6) recounted in Deuteronomy before Israel crossed over the river.

Had Joshua been an English or American general, the list of 16 kings whom Joshua and the Israelite army defeated that follows (12:9-24) would probably have been engraved on a bronze tablet at the Joshua Memorial. (Maybe there is such a thing!) But even better—and perhaps as our authors intended—Joshua is immortalized in the Bible such that we read of his glorious victories some three millennia later.

Despite these excellent victories, the job of conquering Canaan nevertheless remains incomplete. God makes this clear to the aging Joshua: “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land still remains to be possessed.” (13:1) The authors, speaking in God’s voice, go on to list the lands of the Philistines and Canaanites yet to be conquered.  God promises to do the clean-up required himself: “I will myself drive them out from before the Israelites.” (13:6)

As we will read later, this incomplete task will create substantial problems for Israel in the years to come as the Israelites intermarry with the Canaanites and worse, take up their idolatrous religious practices, turning away from the One True God. Nevertheless, Joshua’s final task as Israel’s leader is to divide Canaan “for an inheritance to the nine tribes and the half-tribe of Manasseh.” (13:7) Details of each tribe’s allocation to follow…

Luke 13:31–14:6: As we’ve read earlier, Jesus’ activities in Galilee have come to the attention of Herod. Now, “some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” (31) [It’s interesting to note that the people who warned Jesus were Pharisees; apparently not every Pharisee was hostile to Jesus.] As usual, Jesus’ response is at once both clear and veiled: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’” (32) The reference to the third day can be both the actual third day from the time Jesus receives this warning—or, more likely, it can be a reference to Jesus’ resurrection on the third day.

His comments notwithstanding, Jesus takes the Pharisee’s warning seriously, but not for the reason we’d expect. Instead, he says, “I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” Jesus knows what the ultimate response in Jerusalem—an obvious reference to its religious leaders— will be. He laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (34) It seems that not only does Jesus know his fate based on the fate of the prophets that preceded him, but he also knows the fate of destruction that will ultimately befall Jerusalem itself.

As is Luke’s wont, he weaves prophecy and parable in with Jesus’ healing. But the healings are never random; they always serve to illuminate Jesus’ radical mission. Here, he is at “the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath.” (14:1a) Luke observes that the Pharisees “were watching him carefully” (14:1b), presumably to catch him in any theological error or bad practice.

A man with severe edema appears, but Jesus does not heal him immediately. Rather, he poses the sabbath question as binary two-alternative forced choice question: “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” (14:3) The answer can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But no Pharisee is willing to answer. Jesus heals the man, sends him on his way, and again asks, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” (14:5) Again, he is met with stony silence.

Jesus’ logic seems so obvious and compelling. Why wouldn’t any of the several Pharisees there at dinner answer him? I think the reason is obvious: to answer would have meant admitting that they were wrong. It’s a clear demonstration that pharisaical pride was incredibly strong. Just as our own pride keeps us silent when we hear something whose answer is so compelling and true that we fear that by answering our entire edifice of faulty logic will come crumbling down around us. And we will look like the fools we actually are. That’s the problem with Jesus: he forces us to examine ourselves. And when we do that honestly we see a prideful, sinful self—someone we’d rather not admit we are. And too often, we take the easy road of denial and remaining silent.

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