Psalm 98; Joshua 22; Luke 17:20–25

Originally published 8/15/2016. revised and updated 8/15/2018.

Psalm 98: Our psalmist is effusive in his praise to God (while also taking credit for having composed a new hymn):
Sing to the Lord a new song,
For wonders He has done.
His right hand gave Him victory,
and His holy arm
. (1)

The military undertone of the first verse carries into the second verse as our poet makes it clear that Israel’s God is also the God of all creation and the God of all other nations:
The Lord made known His victory,
before the nations’ eyes He revealed His bounty.

And just what is revealed by God? The psalmist is quick to answer, and it is not about his power or might:
He recalled His kindness and His faithfulness
to the house of Israel
. (3)

This is where God is so radically different than the small-g gods that surrounded Israel (and surround us): a victory speech that describes God’s kindness and faithfulness. Would that the nations of our present world celebrated kindness and faithfulness rather that military strength or financial power.

Our psalmist picks up the theme that all the earth is witness to God’s acts on behalf of Israel:
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God
. (4)

Israel—and we—respond in kind the best way that we can by worshipping God:
Shout out to the Lord, all the earth.
Burst forth in glad song and hymn. 

Our poet then dives down a level of abstraction to describe exactly how this glad song and hymn is to be sung and played:
Hymn to the Lord on the lyre,
on the lyre with the sound of hymning.
With trumpets and the sound of ram’s horn,
sound loud before the king, the Lord.

What’s key for us here is that worship is a joyous and yes, a rather loud affair.  It is far from the reverent solemnity that we so often think of, but more of a noisy party. Something for me to remember when I start grumping about praise choruses…

God’s victory is so great that all the natural world and all other nations join in:
Let the sea and its fulness thunder,
the world and those dwelling in it.

This extent and quality of worship is evoked in the wonderful metaphor:
Let the rivers clap hands,
let the mountains together sing gladly
before the Lord.
 (8, 9a)

This wonderful expression of worshipful joy occurs because God is coming to earth. But he is coming for a solemn purpose: “for He comes to judge the earth.” (9) At first, the idea judgement may seem to contradict the joy of the psalm, but God’s judgement is what the world needs more than anything else. God is coming to “judge the world in justice/ and peoples righteously.” (10) One cannot imagine a better world than one where all has been put to rights and righteousness reigns. That would be pure joy indeed.

Joshua 22: The great wrap up of Israel’s victory over Canaan continues. The land has been allocated and now it is time for the the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return to Gilead on the east side of the Jordan. They have kept their promise to fight for Israel in Canaan and Joshua commends them, “you have not forsaken your kindred these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God.” (3) Of course Josuha cannot let them go without a final word of advice: “Take good care to observe the commandment and instruction that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, and to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (5) Which of course applies to all Israel—and to us even today.

The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (RGM) respond by building an altar “of great size” in Canaan. When the other 9 1/2 tribes hear of this, the believe the RGM tribes have committed treachery and “the whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh, to make war against them” (12) because they believe the RGM have turned away from God to worship something or someone else. The Canaan side of Israel believes that God will punish them all for setting up a second altar beside the one at the Tabernacle.

The RGM reply that their intentions were pure and the altar is a celebratory act and tell the others that if “it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the Lord, do not spare us today.” (22) They point out that it is a memorial so that future generations will remember what their ancestors did for them, and assert, “Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice.” (29) This satisfies the others and Phineas, the high priest, states “Today we know that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord; now you have saved the Israelites from the hand of the Lord.” (31) Everyone then goes happily on their way.

This chapter  clearly reveals the side of human nature that always assumes the worst in others. Rather than giving the RGM the benefit of the doubt, they jump to the grimmest possible conclusion. How many wars have been started; how many relationships have been broken because we act before understanding? Especially in the church around theological issues that end up splitting the church?  This ability to assume the worst intentions of others seems to be an intrinsic part of human nature and its deleterious effects remain rampant today.

Luke 17:20–25: Try as he might, Jesus has ongoing trouble explaining to others what the Kingdom of God is—a difficulty that persists to this day.

A Pharisee asks Jesus, “when the kingdom of God is coming?” (20). Jesus answers with the least possible ambiguity: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed.” (20b) He goes on, “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (21)

Luke’s Jesus clarifies even further in conversation with his disciples—as well as Luke’s community and us—“The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” (22) He warns them and us not to be fooled by signs and wonders: “Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.” (23) Before the end of history occurs, the Son of Man, which is a clear reference to himself, “must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.” (25) Which of course is exactly what happens.

For me, this passage describes the kingdom as something stealthy and “among us.” Of course, we’d much prefer drama and end times—and many Christians focus on that to the exclusion of the suffering and injustice going on right around them. The kingdom of God is focused the acts of justice and righteousness that today’s psalmist describes. Some deride this as the “social gospel,” but with Jesus we must recognize that rejection is part of the job of being a Jesus-follower. Our mission is not so much to “save others,” but to minister to the needs of others. It is this one-on-one ministry of kindness and of society seeking God’s justice, not individual perceptions of justice that brings the Kingdom among us.

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