Psalm 104:10–18; Judges 9:34–10:18; Luke 20:27–40

Originally published 8/27/2016. revised and updated 8/28/2018.

Psalm 104:10–18: The psalmist’s paean to the beauty and diversity of God’s creative power moves from the major structures of creation to the water nourishing the local landscape:
You let loose the springs in freshets,
among the mountains they go.
 (10).

This is the precious water that provides life in that semi-arid region of the world and sustains abundant animal life:
They water all beasts of the field,
the wild asses slake their thirst
.
Above them the fowl of the heavens dwell,
from among the foliage they send forth their voice. (11, 12)

Then as now, water is the essence of the life that God has created:
He waters mountains from His lofts,
from the fruit of Your works the earth is sated.
” (13)

And in that agricultural economy it is water that allows man to tend the earth:
He makes the hay sprout for cattle,
grass for the labor of humankind
to bring forth bread from the earth
. (14)

Water is what brings forth the fruit for life’s enjoyment:
…and wine that gladdens the heart of man
to make faces shine brighter than oil,
and bread that sustains the heart of man
. (15)

[I love that line that describes the effect of wine: “faces shine brighter than oil.”] Even though most of us are far removed from the farms that bring us food and drink, what was true then is just as true now. Without water the earth would shrivel and die. As would we.

There is a beautiful logic underlying God’s creation which our poet brings into view: water feeds the earth which in turn feeds animals and feeds humankind. In a single sentence our poet again evokes a landscape rich in birds and animals in which we would be happy to dwell:
The trees of the Lord drink their fill,
the Lebanon cedars He planted,
where the birds make their nest.
the stork whose home is the cypresses,
the high mountains for the gazelles,
the crags a shelter for badgers. (16, 17, 18)

[As a resident of Wisconsin, my neighbors should especially appreciate that last line!]

For me, I see the poet asserting that plants animals have the same rights to God’s good creation as we humans. That humankind has desecrated so much of the earth is tangible evidence of our prideful and sinful nature.

Judges 9:34–10:18: Abimelech will not countenance Gaal the putative usurper and he and his army lay in wait to ambush the city. Gaal looks outside the city walls and goes back to Zebul, one of the lords of Shechem, and tells him that Ab’s army is about to attack. Zebul is apparently in on Ab’s plot and tells Gaal he is mistaken and not to worry:  “The shadows on the mountains look like people to you.” (9:36)

Zebul turns out to be on Ab’s side and Ab successfully reasserts his kingly rights as “Zebul drove out Gaal and his kinsfolk, so that they could not live on at Shechem.” (41) However, this relatively benign action does not satisfy the murderous Ab, who lies in wait outside Shechem and “When he looked and saw the people coming out of the city, he rose against them and killed them.” (43) In fact he destroys the entire city, “and killed the people that were in it; and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.” (45)

The lords of Shechem hear of Ab’s rampage and hide in the “stronghold of the temple of El-berith.” (46). Ab commands his troops to cut down brushwood and they set fire the stronghold on fire “so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.” (49) Like his father Gideon, Ab uses fire, but in a far more malign way. Fire is not to fool the enemy, but to destroy women and children.

Ab moves on to Thebez and takes the city but not the tower inside the city walls to which the lords of the city fled. Ab fights against them but “a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, and crushed his skull.” (53) Male chauvinist to the end, the dying Ab demands that a servant run him through with a sword, “so people will not say about me, ‘A woman killed him.’” (54) Ab dies, as the authors note that “God repaid Abimelech for the crime he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers.” (56) And by the way, “God also made all the wickedness of the people of Shechem fall back on their heads” (57) fulfilling Jotham’s curse on them.

Following Abimelech, Tola, “son of Puah son of Dodo[!], a man of Issachar,”  (10:1) becomes judge and nothing seems to happen for 23 years. He’s followed by “Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years.”  (10:3) The authors insert the humorous description that Jair “had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; and they had thirty towns.” (10:4)  Which is probably not how Jair wished to be remembered down through history.

Unsurprisingly, “the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, worshiping the Baals and the Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines.” (10:6) God’s punishment is that they are oppressed by the Ammonites for 18 long years.

Equally predictably, “the Israelites cried to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals.” (10:10) God chastises them, recounting all the rescues of Israel he has done for them and says in Godly frustration, “therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” (13, 14) 

At this, Israel repents and God relents because, “he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.” (10:16) Another battle is in the offing as the Israelites ask themselves, “Who will begin the fight against the Ammonites?” (10:18)

As I read these accounts there are striking parallels between Israel and Palestine today. These battles have been going on for millennia—and it’s doubtless foolhardy to think that this enmity can be negotiated into a truly peaceful harmony.

Luke 20:27–40: The Sadducees are “those who say there is no resurrection” (27) and ask Jesus a trick question setting up their strawman: “seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.” Then in their self-righteous cleverness, they ask, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” (33)

Jesus simply answers that “in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage,…they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (35, 36) thereby rendering the question moot.

He goes on to use the example of Moses to prove the reality of resurrection, naming God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, proving that “he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (38)

What’s intriguing here is that to God, being outside of time, death is not an end but merely a transition. I think this is also what NT Wright is getting at when he talks about heaven being very near to us in a dimension that we cannot perceive here on earth (or at least only very rarely in thin spaces.) What looks like resurrection to us is merely a state change—ice to water—to God.

 

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