Psalm 102:12–22; Judges 4; Luke 19:1–10

Originally published 8/20/2016. revised and updated 8/21/2018.

Psalm 102:12–22: Our suffering poet compares the brevity of his human existence to God’s eternity:
My days inclined like a shadow,
and I—like grass I withered.
And You Lord, forever enthroned
and Your name for all generations. (12, 13)

We would do well to reflect more frequently on our mortality rather than behaving as if we’ll always be part of the earthly scene. Cancer certainly did that for me, but even now, almost ten years later, I have tended to lapse back into that old sense of making plans for the future on the assumption I’ll definitely be around to execute them. This psalm jerks me back to the reality of the ephemerality of life.

At this point our psalmist expands his perspective from his personal straits to those of Israel at large, addressing God in supplication: ”
You, may You rise, have mercy on Zion,
for it is the hour to pity her, for the fixed time has come
. (14)

It appears the poet is writing after the fall of Jerusalem, where only rubble remains:
Your servants cherish her stones
and on her dust they take pity.
 (15).

His argument seems to be that if the remnant of Israel still loves what is left of Jerusalem, so too should God himself.  As he reflects on God’s potential mercy, the psalmist grows optimistic, envisioning a reconstructed Israel that once again enjoys power and respect—not of Israel, but of God himself:
All nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all kings of the earth, Your glory.
For the Lord has rebuilt Zion,
He is seen in His glory. (16, 17)

This vision of a rebuilt temple [Zion] rekindles our poet’s optimism. All is not dark and hopeless after all. God will indeed answer the pleas of the people—and God looks down on them:
He has turned to the prayer of the desolate
and has not despised their prayer.

…For the Lord has gazed down from His holy heights,
from heaven to earth He has looked…
” (18, 20) [This is one of those places where we get the image of heaven being ‘up above’ the earth.]

And in gazing down, God has shown great mercy:
…to hear the groans of the captive,
to set loose those doomed to die,
 (21)

The response of those rescued is, as always, worship:
…that the name of the Lord be recounted in Zion
and His praise in Jerusalem.
 (22)

This psalm, having descended to the depths of human despair, ascends to the glory of worshipping God in heaven. It is indeed a metaphor for our human existence. Without God there can only be suffering and sorrow. But God always remembers us, sees us, answers us—and in that redemption through Jesus we can rejoice.

Judges 4: Following Ehud’s death, Israel again lapses into sin and our authors ascribe what is essentially slavery as God’s punishment. They are ruled cruelly by “King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera.” (2) and finally, after twenty years, “the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.” (3)

Deborah, who is now Israel’s judge, “summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali,” (6) and tells him to take 10,000 troops to battle Sisera. Barak says that Deborah must accompany him into battle, which she agrees to do. However, she warns Barak, “nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” (9) [I think it’s worth noting here that once again, God brings women into leadership. Unfortunately, it is the remnants of a patriarchal society that even today does not value tpwomen the way God values women.]

Deborah, Barak, and his 10,000 warriors begin their march. When he learns of this, “Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him.” (13)  Deborah commands Barak to engage in battle, sounding very much like Joshua: “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand.” (14) Barak handily defeats Sisera’s army but Sisera himself escapes on foot.

On the run, the defeated general arrives at “the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite,‘  (17) believing he is safe because the clan of Heber is at peace with Sisera’s king. The desperate Sisera accepts Jael’s offer to hide him in her tent under a rug. Sisera says he is thirsty; Jael gives him milk(!) rather than water.

Sisera retires to the the comfort of the bed in the tent and falls fast asleep. “Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground.” (21) Barak shows up and Jael calmly tells him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” (22) and shows him Sisera’s body with the tet peg sticking out of his temple. Deborah’s prophecy that Barak would not kill Sisera but that “the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman is fulfilled. And again, it is a woman who displays cleverness and courage.

Jael and Deborah are the exemplars of a newly-emboldened Israel and by following God, “the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.” (24)

The author’s point of the story is not only that Israel has once again been rescued. There is a larger lesson here. The roles of Deborah and Jael demonstrate that God works just as effectively through women as through men, even if they be mighty generals and vast armies. How churches that exclude women from any leadership role, can read this story and still discount the courage and leadership of women, who are equal with men as instruments of God’s power, remains a mystery to me. Well, I guess it’s not that much of a mystery because they prefer Paul’s misogyny to the courageous acts of women like Deborah and Esther, who saved Israel.

Luke 19:1–10: Every Sunday School kid loves the story of Zacchaeus the Short. Perhaps it’s the sycamore tree-climbing. Jesus spots him in the tree and tells him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” (5) Zaccheaus complies and Luke is careful to note, “All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” (7), reminding us that we are terribly quick to judge our neighbors.

In stark contrast to the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus is willing to give up his wealth: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (8) Notice that Zacchaeus does not give up the entirety of his wealth, but it is his willingness to do so that is the reason Jesus commends him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” (9) As he did of Zacchaeus, Jesus is asking for our heart. If we are willing to do that, everything else follows naturally. Unlike the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus responds with his heart rather than his mind.

One wonders why Jesus points out that Zacchaeus is “a son of Abraham,” i.e., Jewish. I’m pretty sure that his neighbors held the tax collector in complete contempt, considering him to have abandoned his jewishness and gone completely over to the other side. But Zacchaeus’ redemption is the proof of Jesus’ mission statement: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (10) No one, no matter how sinful or how despised, is beyond redemption. In fact, these are the very people Jesus—and we—are seeking out. Are we up in the tree trying to get a view of Jesus or are we like the young ruler, more concerned about keeping every jot and tittle of the law, but unwilling to turn our heart over to Jesus.

 

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