Psalm 105:37–45; Judges 20:1–31; Luke 22:52–62

Originally published 9/6/2016. revised and updated 9/6/2018.

Psalm 105:37–45: Our psalmist points out that the Israelites successfully departed Egypt with substantial riches:
And He brought them out with silver and gold,
and none of His tribes did falter.

Interestingly, rather than focus on Egypt’s second thoughts and subsequent pursuit of the Israelites and the incident of crossing the sea, the emphasis here is on the relief of the Egyptians felt at Israel’s departure and the end of the plagues—which is a point of view we don’t really hear in Exodus:
Egypt rejoiced when they went out,
for their fear had fallen upon them
. (38)

The scene shifts to the wilderness and events that occurred there. First, there is God’s protection and guidance via the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night:
He spread a cloud as a curtain
and a fire to light up the night.

Manna is mentioned, along with the quail incident, as the poet makes sure to note that the people asked for the quail:
They asked, and He brought the quail,
and with bread from the heavens he sated them
. (40)

God also gave them more than ample water:
He opened the rock and water flowed.
It went forth in parched land as a stream.

God did all these deeds for Israel because, as the poet reminds his listeners, he kept his side of the Covenant:
For He recalled His holy word
with Abraham His servant
.” (42)

Our poet leaps from the departure from Egypt—And He brought His people out in joy (43)—right over the 40-year wandering in the desert—to the arrival, the victories and the spoils in Canaan, and the allocation of land:
And He gave them the lands of nations,
they took hold of the wealth of peoples.
” (44)

But as always, there is Israel’s covenantal obligation of obedience in return:
so that they should keep His statutes,
and his teachings the should observe.

Above all else, all the sustenance and the victories, it is God’s relentless faithfulness that is the root cause for rejoicing—expressed as the single excalmation concludes the psalm: “Hallelujah!

The overall thrust of the psalm is for Israel to reflect on all that God has so wondrously done for them and the only obligation in return is obedience to the laws that God has set out. Which as we know too well was mostly observed in the breech. So too for us. While we may not identify with the historical events of Exodus, this psalm is a call for us to reflect on own exodus from our own Egypt: Jesus Christ has rescued us from ourselves. And as the psalmist concludes, that is a cause for Hallelujah!

Judges 20:1–31: Despite its gruesomeness, the Levite’s act of sending 1/12th of his concubine’s body to each of the other tribes of Israel has the effect he intended—and then some: “The chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot-soldiers bearing arms.” (2) The first thing everyone wants are the details, which the Levite provides them: “The lords of Gibeah rose up against me, and surrounded the house at night. They intended to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she died.” (5)

The Levite asks the leaders what they want to do and vengeance is on their minds. They “are going to repay Gibeah of Benjamin for all the disgrace that they have done in Israel.” (10) The first act is to send messengers “through all the tribe of Benjamin,” (12) asking that the Benjamites “hand over those scoundrels in Gibeah, so that we may put them to death, and purge the evil from Israel.” (13) But the Benjamites refuse, and put together an army of 26,000 in addition to the population of Gibeah. The authors add a side note: “Of all this force, there were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss.” (16)

The authors, obviously from Judah, make sure we know that the Israelites “inquired of God, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?” God replies, “Judah shall go up first.” (18)

The battle does not go well; the Benjaminites appear to have the upper hand in this civil war: 22,000 men of Judah are killed on the first day of battle. Discouraged, they pray and “the Lord said, “Go up against them.” (21) 18,000 Israelites died the second day. They return to camp where the Ark is and pray again. This time, God tells them,“Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” (28) Things seem to go much better. The Benjaminites are drawn away from Gibeah by a feint and Israel begins to inflict casualties.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s reading to learn the exciting outcome of this unfortunate battle.

What we learn here is that civil wars are as inevitable as those fought against an external enemy. While certainly not as horrific, there’s no question that we in the church continue to fight our own civil wars. And given the political polarization around us, the roots of civil conflict seem to be barely out of view.

Luke 22:52–62: As he is being arrested, Jesus asks the temple police why they have insulted him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?” (52) Reminding them of their cowardice earlier in the week, Jesus points out, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me.” (53a) Perhaps more significantly, Luke’s Jesus essentially says they are agents of Satan’s power: “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” (53b) Again, we have a clue that Luke sees the trial and crucifixion as being much more than the work of disgruntled temple officials who feel threatened. There is a deeper, darker spiritual battle at work here.

One of the saddests passages in the gospels is Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus. At Peter’s third denial, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” (60) the cock crows. Then, in a mere seven words Luke limns one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in his gospel: “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (60) At that moment Peter realizes what had happened. But this is much more than his memory. Jesus has looked at him and he realizes not only the enormity of his failure but the ultimate emptiness of his promises.

Peter’s denial is so powerful for us because in our hearts each of us knows that we would do exactly the same thing as he. How many empty promises have I made to Jesus only to fail to keep them? Jesus doesn’t have to say anything; he only has to look in my direction and the magnitude of my failure is amplified a thousandfold. Just as it was for Peter who “went out and wept bitterly.” (62)

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