Psalm 101; Judges 1:17–2:23; Luke 18:18–30

Originally published 8/18/2016. revised and updated 8/18/2018.

Psalm 101: While the previous psalm (100) celebrates God’s righteousness and faithfulness, this psalm turns inward as the psalmist contemplates his own behavior and attitude before God as it opens with song about a man who would emulate God’s qualities:
Kindness and justice I would sing.
To You O Lord, I would hymn
. (1)

To be kind and just requires observing others who follow God. Nor will he consort with the wicked, but rather focus on his own behavior:
I would study the way of the blameless:
when will it come to me?

I shall go about in my heart’s innocence
within my house
. (2)

Our poet notes that avoiding temptation and evil people is a key requirement to becoming kind and just:
I shall not set before my eyes
any base thing.
” (3a).

This discipline certainly is applicable in these days when one can find anything, particularly pornography, on the Internet. This internal discipline leads to a firm resolution to avoid (as the Catholics put it) “occasions of sin:”
I hate committing transgressions.
It will not cling to me.
 (3b)

Rather, he must work consciously to stay out of harm’s way:
May a twisted heart turn far from me.
May I not know evil.
 (4)

These verses point out the psychological fact that if we consciously discipline ourselves to avoid sinful people and situations, it becomes easier to avoid succumbing  to temptation.

We suddenly get the sense that in this “David psalm,’ it is the king himself who is speaking. His state of semi-perfection [self-righteousness?] will motivate him to chastise others. In fact, he will go beyond chastisement against the wicked who speak ill of his friends:
Who defames in secret his fellow,
him shall I destroy.
The haughty of eyes and proud of heart,
him shall I not suffer
. (5)

That the king is speaking becomes more obvious in the next verse:
My eyes are on the land’s faithful,
that they dwell with me.
 (6a)

In fact he will surround himself only with retainers who also follow God and practice justice and kindness:
Who walks in the way of the blameless,
it is he who will serve me
.
Within my house there shall not dwell
one who practices deceit.
A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes.
 (6b, 7)

This righteousness at the center motivates the king to take action against evil throughout his kingdom:
Each morning I shall destroy
all the wicked of the land,
to cut off from the town of the Lord
[Jerusalem]
all the wrongdoers. (8)

Obviously there is some hyperbole here since destroying all the wicked is an impossible task. But speaking as king, this psalm would have served clear notice defining exactly what kind of people qualified to serve him. But as we see at the highest levels of government today, this requires a leader committed to the way of justice and righteousness. Alas, that quality does not seem to be present.

For us personally, of course, it’s a reminder that if we claim to be Jesus followers we must be pure of heart and work consciously to avoid situations where we are tempted to sin.

Judges 1:17–2:23: The task of conquering the Canaanites was not completed by Joshua and his army. As our authors make clear here, there was much left to be accomplished. They catalog the efforts of virtually every tribe. Judah is successful but “the Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived in Jerusalem among the Benjaminites to this day.” (1:21) The house of Joseph uses spies to successfully capture Bethel, but “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages.” (27)  Nor did Ephraim “drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer.” (29) Zebulon, Asher, Napthali were equally unsuccessful—and so it went.

God is not exactly pleased at these half-measures and sends an angel to speak on his behalf. The angel chastises them and predicts a fairly grim future for Israel because of their failure to only partially execute God’s clear command (an outcome the authors surely knew as the wrote many years later): “you have not obeyed my command. See what you have done! So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” (2:3)

Alas, “the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals.” (2:11) Worse, “they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods.” (12)

As today’s psalmist observes, bad things tend to happen when people are surrounded by evil. Israel “did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them.” (2:17)

Israel’s judges were the only societal glue holding the nation together because “the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge.”  (2:18) But when the judge died, Israel was quick to revert to its pagan ways. The authors conclude that this state of affairs remained in place “In order to test Israel, whether or not they would take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their ancestors did.” (2:22). Unsurprisingly, Israel generally failed the test. As, I suspect, given the woeful state of the culture we live in, so have we.

Luke 18:18–30: Perhaps Jesus most famous theological encounter was not with the assorted Pharisees and lawyers, but with the rich young ruler. The young man is an exemplar when it comes to following the Law and now asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18). Jesus rather testily rebukes the man for calling Jesus “good,” asserting that “No one is good but God alone,” (19) which I take to be Luke’s message to his community that even those who have obeyed every law cannot begin to claim to be “good” absent Jesus’ saving grace.

Jesus goes on to tell him that following all the rules is insufficient and  famously says, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (22) Interestingly, when he hears this statement, the young man is neither angry nor annoyed; he is sad. Jesus is requiring him to abandon everything in order to be a Jesus follower. This is the same kind of total abandonment that Oswald Chambers keeps talking about.

We tend to consign this saying of Jesus to the “hard sayings” category and/or come up with interesting rationalizations as to why we don’t need to take Jesus’ advice even though we are also rich. That said, I think the heart of the issue here is attitude. Jesus was testing the man’s priorities and when he talks about camels and needles he is saying that if our wealth is a priority over Jesus, we cannot enter the Kingdom. If wealth ensures after we have the right priority, than I suppose it’s OK. But in the end Luke’s Jesus is concerned about the poor widows and the orphans—the societal last who shall be first in the Kingdom. If we cannot set the same priority but would rather tend to our stock portfolios first then we are exactly like the rich man. And if we’re paying attention to what Jesus said, our response will be just as sad as the young man’s.

 

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