Psalm 97:7–12; Joshua 21:9–45; Luke 17:11–19

Originally published 8/13/2016. revised and updated 8/14/2018

Psalm 97:7–12: Our psalmist reminds us that the majesty of the one and true God so outshines and outranks the deities of other religions:
All idol-worshippers are shamed,
who boast of the ungods
. (7a)

I really like the idea of “ungods.” It connotes the exact opposite of everything that God is. If God is the God of justice, the ungod is the god of wickedness—and so on. In addition to the idolatrous ungods, our psalmist seems to acknowledge the existence of another class of small-g gods, who must at at least be alive (or exist in some other dimension?) in some fashion:
All gods bow down to Him. (7b)

In any event, Israel is truly overjoyed that God is their God and that he has acted righteously in their midst:
Zion heard and rejoiced
and Judea’s villages exulted,
because of Your judgements, Lord.
 (8)

This verse is a challenge to us when we feel God has judged us. Our response is not to be anger but rejoicing because in that judgement God has set us on a righteous path.

Moreover, it is God’s righteousness and judgement that is reflected in us. We are to follow and to adopt the same stance as God himself because he is our protector:
You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He guards the lives of His faithful.
From the hand of the wicked He saves them
. (10)

The psalmist names those who follow God as “the just.” These are the people who God protects:
Light is sown for the just,
and for the upright of heart there is joy.
 (11)

This agricultural image of light being sowed like seed is a metaphor for the lives we God-followers must lead. God’s light—for me, that’s the Holy Spirit—results in an “upright heart.” This tender image conclusion certainly stands in stark contrast with the opening verses of this psalm where “Fire goes before Him/ and all round burns His foes.” (3)

The eternal question hangs in the air: Are we upright of heart? Do we submit to God’s righteousness or do we prefer to retain total control over our thoughts and actions? If it is the former, then with the psalmist, we “Rejoice, O you just, in the Lord,/ and acclaim His holy name.” (12)

Joshua 21:9–45: The authors go into extreme detail as the describe the towns and surrounding pasture lands that are allocated to the various sub-tribes of the Levites:

  • the direct descendants of Aaron; (9-19)
  • the rest of the Kohathites belonging to the Kohathite families of the Levites; (20-26)
  • the Gershonites, one of the families of the Levites (27-33)

Land appears to have been given over to the levitical families on a proportionate basis from all the other tribes, all adding up to “the towns of the Levites within the holdings of the Israelites were in all forty-eight towns with their pasture lands.” (41) This level of detail leaves little question that our authors were priests, all descendants of these levitical families. Understandably, they focus on their own history in greater detail than the allocations to the other tribes. It’s one of those details that reveals the humanity behind the Bible.

The key verses here are the last three of the chapter. God has come through on every one of his promises: “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them; and having taken possession of it, they settled there.” (43) Moreover, just as God had promised, Israel has conquered all and “not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.” (44)

This is the moment of God’s accomplishment. God has been at Israel’s side since the day they left Egypt. The Exodus is complete at last.

The final verse of this chapter is one we can hold on to as tightly as Israel did: “Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (45) Would that we kept our promises to God as faithfully as God does for Israel—and for us. As we will see, keeping Israel’s side of the great Covenant is not all that easy. Alas, the same goes for us.

Luke 17:11–19: Earlier in the chapter, Jesus’ disciples have asked their leader to “increase our faith.” (5) Jesus gives them clear instruction on how to do this via the parable of the slaves eating supper after their master has dined. Luke now provides a dramatic human illustration of what Jesus was talking about.

As they headed toward Jerusalem, “going through the region between Samaria and Galilee, [they] entered a village, ten lepers approached him.” (11, 12) The lepers beg, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (13). Jesus says nothing but simply gives the instruction to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” (14a).

This healing occurs because the ten lepers obeyed Jesus and “as they went, they were made clean.” (14b) Luke’s point is that the lepers had to have faith in Jesus to start out on their journey. Only by their obedience did healing occur. Which was exactly Jesus’ point earlier in his discussion of the increasing faith and the parable of the slaves. And is exactly Luke’s point to his readers—and to us.

Of the ten who Jesus healed, only “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” (15, 16a) It is in the next line that Luke makes his point even more trenchantly. Not only did a mere 10% of the persons who were healed healed thank Jesus, moreover, “he was a Samaritan.” (16b) Despised by the Jews as being pagan and irreligious, it was the Samaritan who recognized—and thanked—Jesus.

Luke’s point to his community is obvious: it is the Gentiles who see Jesus for who he really is, while the other nine, presumably Jews, blithely go on their way. Do we thank Jesus for all he has done for us or do we simply head down the road of life without gratitude, or even acknowledgement?

 

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