Psalm 100; Joshua 24:14–Judges 1:16; Luke 18:1–17

Originally published 8/17/2016. revised and updated 8/17/2018.

Psalm 100: There’s no ambiguity about the theme of this psalm as our poet announces  this is “a thanksgiving psalm” in the first line. He invites all of humankind and nature to join in worship:
Shout out to the Lord all the earth,
worship the Lord in rejoicing,
come before Him in glad song.
 (1b, 2)

Worship at the temple in Jerusalem must have been a noisy affair since the psalmist invites everyone not just to sing, but to shout as well, reminding curmudgeons like me who prefer solemnity that exuberance is an essential quality of worship.

Our poet moves on quickly to remind us why we’re thankful:
Know that the Lord is God.
He has made us, and we are His,
His people and the flock He tends
. (3)

Besides acknowledging that God has created us, we need to remember that our relationship with God is well defined. The hierarchy is clear: He is our Creator; we are his creatures. As his created ones, we are his complete possession, signified here metaphorically as being his flock. Yet how many times do I prefer to behave as I’m the one in charge rather than God?

With God’s created order in mind, there is order to worship as well. Once again we are reminded that worshipping God is our highest human calling:
Come into His gates with thanksgiving,
His courts in praise.
Acclaim Him,
Bless His name.
 (4)

And again, our poet tells us why we are engaged in joyful worship in one of the great verses in Psalms:
For the Lord is Good,
forever His kindness,
and for all generations His faithfulness. (5)

The question is, do I live my life in the reality of God’s kindness and faithfulness? Or do I revert to my inborn cynical self? When joy seems far away this psalm reminds us that joy is close if we but pause, acknowledge God’s love and enter into his gates with praise and thanksgiving.

Joshua 24:14–Judges 1:16: Joshua comes to the heart of his speech at Shechem as he asks the Israelites gathered before him, “if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (15a). In one of the most famous and effective lines in any speech ever delivered in the Bible, Joshua asserts, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (15b). The people respond enthusiastically, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” (16)

We can sense Joshua’s doubt as he goes on to make it clear that the god we choose is a binary choice. If the people choose to follow a small-g god then,“You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God.” (19) The people respond, almost shouting,“No, we will serve the Lord!” (21). But Joshua calls their bluff, telling them, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” (22) demanding that they “put away foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (23) The people again respond that “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” (24) This scene demonstrates how easy it is to shout out our loyalty in an enthusiastic crowd. But our words are not our actions.

This speech is just as relevant today as it was some three millennia ago. We must choose between the small-g gods in our life or God himself. Jesus recapitulates Joshua when he tells the people at the Sermon on the mount that they cannot choose two masters, or as the King James Bible famously puts it, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24) This is the choice that each of us must make. But I think we are too like Israel: Sincere in intention but weak in practice.

Like Moses before him, Joshua gives this last speech and then, “Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old.” (29) So, too, “Eleazar son of Aaron died.” (33) The last connection between Israel and the men who set out from Egypt so many years ago is almost severed. Only Caleb remains alive.

The book of Judges opens where the book of Joshua ended. Where Moses and Joshua were the direct channels to God, now it is unidentified Israelites who inquire of God asking,“Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” (Judges 1:1). Our authors, who I believe were from Judah, deliver a clear answer written as the voice of God that “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” (2) The tribe of Judah asks the tribe of Simeon to assist and “the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they defeated ten thousand of them at Bezek.” (4)

The Canaanite king, Adoni-bezek meets a grisly end, first having his thumbs and big toes cut off(!) and then brought as prisoner to newly-conquered Jerusalem, where he dies. More Israelite victories ensue as the continue to conquer the land that becomes Judah.

We then see a rerun of the incident describe in Deuteronomy bewteen Caleb and his daughter, who asks for—and receives— land.

But there’s a dark undercurrent here amidst all the triumphs. Despite these victories, Israel does not fully accomplish its God-given task. Not every Canaanite has been wiped out. Some Israelites “went and settled with the Amalekites.” (16) thus beginning the many centuries of trouble.

Luke 18:1–17: Jesus tells a parable of a persistent widow who comes to a corrupt judge again and again, asking, “‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’” (3). Her persistence pays off and the judge eventually acts, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” (5). This parable indicates that we can still obtain justice in a corrupt world by persistence and prayer. The further interpretation is that it is God acts and brings justice even through corrupt people (politicians), “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” (7)

He then tells the more famous parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. The Pharisee prays in public, announcing all his good deed and denigrating those he sees as beneath him: “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (11) The tax collector, standing far off begs, “‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (13) Jesus makes his point without ambiguity: “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.” (14a) Prayer is a private affair, not an opportunity for self-aggrandizement—although I have certainly heard public prayers not unlike the Pharisee’s. In this political season we can take comfort in Jesus’ famous aphorism, “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”(14). Although at present I cannot name a humble politician…

Jesus then does something that is sweet and that I suspect was unprecedented in his culture: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (16). Unfortunately, many churches today see children as an impediment to “serious worship,” preferring it to be strictly an adult event by not only eliminating a children’s sermon, but sending the children in the congregation away to Sunday School rather than having them join in worship. Jesus is telling us that absent the example of little children we tend to fool ourselves into thinking we’re full-fledged members of the Kingdom.

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