Psalm 102:1–11; Judges 3; Luke 18:31–43

Originally published 8/19/2016. revised and updated 8/20/2018.

Psalm 102:1–11: Unlike many other psalms of supplication, the opening verse states the exact purpose of the psalm while also scanning as beautiful poetry:
A prayer for the lowly when he grows faint
and pours out his plea before the Lord
. (1)

Even in the words asking God to hear his prayer we feel the psalmist’s despair:
Lord, O hear my prayer,
and let my outcry come before You
. (2)

Like all who suffer, he begs God to reveal himself and answer not just in the good times, but even more urgently when we are in our darkest hours:
Hide not Your face from me
on the day when I am in straits.
” (3a)

Then, in one of the most dramatic verses in Psalms, the poet beautifully describes life’s ephemerality in parallel with intense physical suffering in two memorable similes:
For my days are consumed in smoke,
and my bones are scorched like a hearth.
My heart is stricken and withers like grass,
so I forget to eat my bread.
 (5).

As a result, his disease has emaciated him:
From my loud sighing,
my bones cleave to my flesh
.” (6)

To further heighten the sense of his being close to death, he compares himself to two birds:
I resemble the wilderness jackdaw,
I become like the owl of the ruins.
 (7)

Our poet extends the bird metaphor to describe his insomnia:
I lie awake and become
like a lonely bird on a roof.
 (8)

As if his physical weakness is not enough, he is confronted by wicked enemies eager to see him die:
All day long my enemies revile me,
my taunters invoke me in curse
.” (9)

In perhaps the greatest metaphor of depression created by chronic disease I have ever encountered, our poet beautifully evokes the sense of having become a dry husk of a man near the bitter end of his life:
For ashes I have eaten as bread,
and my drink I have mingled with tears—
 (10)

The suffering of Job comes to mind at this point as well as the suffering of so many through history into the present day.

I have been fortunate that in my own journey with cancer I have not endured suffering such as that described here, but I know those who have. And given this state, it is little wonder that our poet lashes out at God and blames him for these woes:
..because of Your wrath and fury,
for You raised me up and flung me down.
 (11)

Which I think is exactly what I would do as well. To have God bring one to life by God (“raised me up“) and then to waste away with disease (“flung me down“) seems a capricious and even cruel act by God. One can see the origin of the despairing phrase, ‘I wish I had never been born.’

Judges 3: Inasmuch as our authors are writing history, they ascribe Israel’s failure to completely rid Canaan of all the tribes already occupying the land as “the nations that the Lord left to test all those in Israel who had no experience of any war in Canaan,” (1) which I take to be subsequent generations living alongside Canaanites long after Joshua’s death. The authors catalog the tribes that are left dwelling alongside Israel: “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” (5) Unfortunately, the presence of these tribes has had a malign influence on Israel, which “took their daughters as wives for themselves, and their own daughters they gave to their sons; and they worshiped their gods.” (6)

Depressingly, “the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God, and worshiping the Baals and the Asherahs.” (7). One wonders: why was it that Israel followed these other small-g gods when they could have undertaken efforts to bring God to these other tribes? All through history to the present day it seems that it is always the small-g gods that are more attractive than God. Certainly their physicality as idols created a sense of a god “being present,” as over against Israel’s monotheistic but almost always invisible God, who too often seems silent and absent.

The authors go on to describe the consequences of Israel abandoning God. But as always, “when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites, who delivered them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.” (11) Othniel serves as judge and “the land had rest forty years.” (11) But then he dies and once again in neverending rhythm, “the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (12) The king of Moab, “in alliance with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, he went and defeated Israel.” (13) which becomes a vassal state for 18 years.

Israel finally comes to its senses and cries out to God and “the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man.” (15) I love the left-hand detail since left-handedness was seen as a significant physical defect in those cultures. As always, God uses the people you’d least expect. Ehud arranges to bring a tribute and a personal weapon, a sword, to King Eglon of Moab, who “was a very fat man.”  (17) (Love these physical descriptions!). Ehud uses a ruse to get Eglon alone and assassinates him with the hidden sword, presumably using his left hand. Our authors seem to relish every gruesome detail: “the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out.” (22) Ehud locks the door to the chamber and escapes.

The king’s servants, thinking he’s taking too long “relieving himself,” break open the door and find their dead king. Without its leader, Moab falls to Israel in a great battle where “they killed about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped.” (29) Roles are reversed and Moab is now vassal to Israel. Eighty years of peace ensue. But we can certainly see why Moabites and Israel hated each other even many years later when Ruth came along.

Compared to the detail about Ehud, our authors give short shrift to “Shamgar son of Anath, who killed six hundred of the Philistines with an oxgoad,” saying only that “He too delivered Israel.” (31) Why no backstory about him?

Luke 18:31–43: Jesus and the 12 disciples are now heading to Jerusalem for the final act. Jesus predicts what is going to happen there with specific precision. “For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” (32, 33)

I have to suspect that Luke, writing long after the crucifixion, has placed these words in Jesus’ mouth. Which doesn’t bother me because I think his real point here is to emphasize once again the complete unexpectedness, the utter improbability of what is about to happen. Luke’s focus is on the disciples, who like us, “understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (34) Even 2000 years later, long after these historical events,  we have trouble grasping what Jesus really meant here.

As they pass through Jericho, a blind man asks what the hubbub is about. He is told that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (37) He begins shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (39) and is brought to Jesus, who asks “What do you want me to do for you?” (41) The man replies, “Lord, let me see again.” (41b). Jesus heals him, saying, “your faith has saved you.” (42)

For Luke, this event is operating at two levels. First is the incident itself. A blind man has faith that he can be healed and he is. But the more significant level Luke is saying that we are all spiritually blind and crying out, if not aloud, then on the inside. The blind man has superior spiritual vision into who Jesus really is than the disciples—and by implication, all of us. As Luther found out after years of trying, if we have faith in Jesus we will see everything much more clearly. Above all, if we have honest faith, we will see Jesus for who he really is.

 

 

Speak Your Mind

*