Psalm 106:32–39; 1 Samuel 1:1–2:11; Luke 23:44–56

Originally published 9/12/2016. revised and updated 9/12/2018.

Psalm 106:32–39: A major theme of this psalm is the complaining and intransigence of the Israelites that is the root cause of the bad things that happened in the wilderness and in Canaan. Of course he’s right.

Thirsty, the poet tells us, “They caused fury over the waters of Meribah,” (32a). Frustrated beyond all reason, Moses strikes the rock, “and it went badly for Moses because of them.” (32b). ‘Badly,’ of course, is God telling Moses he will not enter the promised land. The poet lets Moses partially off the hook, explaining that it was the fault of the ever-whining mob:
for they rebelled against him,
and he pronounced rash things with his lips.
” (33)

The ‘rash things’ of course being his assertion that he rather than God would cause the water to come forth. This is a great reminder that Moses was just as human as the rest of us. And how often does frustration cause us to say rash things we quickly regret?

When Israel enters Canaan they do not follow God’s explicit instructions to annihilate its inhabitants:
They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord had said to them.
 (34)

We know too well the logical consequence of this disobedience:
They mingled with the nations and learned their deed.
And they worshipped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
 (35, 36).

Our psalmist describes in detail the heathen practices that the Israelites adopted—gruesome details that I think were glossed over by the authors of Joshua and Judges:
And the sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons.
 (37)

To ensure that we fully comprehend the nature of this evil, our poet clarifies the grotesque rituals:
And they shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and their daughters
when the sacrificed to Canaan’s idols,
and the land was polluted with blood guilt.
 (38)

These are not mere lapses in judgement, rather it is the word we don’t use too much these days: an abomination to God as the poet reminds us:
And they were defiled through their deeds
and went whoring through their actions.
 (39)

We may think that our culture is superior to theirs—and in terms of protecting our living children it is. After all we don’t sacrifice our children to tin idols. But with the reality of abortion as convenience and now increasingly euthanasia, are we really morally superior to ancient Israel?

1 Samuel 1:1–2:11: The eponymous book opens with the story of the birth of Samuel. As has happened so often, the heroine of the story, Hannah, is barren even as her husband, Elkanah, “loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.”  (1:5) Hannah’s sister, Peninnah, lords it over her because she is barren. Elkanah attempts to comfort her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1:8) But Hannah is inconsolable.

Weeping bitterly, Hannah prays, and vows that if she can have a male child she will dedicate him to God’s work as a nazarite. In a detail I’d not noticed before, Hannah is moving her lips but not speaking as she prays. Talking aloud to God was de rigueur in that culture and the priest, Eli, thinks she is drunk. “But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled.” (1:15) and tells Eli she has “been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” (16) Eli reassures her that her prayer will be answered and goes away a happier woman. Hannah’s prayer is also a demonstration that God hears us even when we do not pray according to accepted convention.

In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” (20). When it’s time for the annual pilgrimage to offer sacrifices at Shiloh, she remains behind, telling Elkanah that “I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” (22). Her husband (who already has plenty of children) agrees with her plan since it will bring joy to his wife: “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.” (23) Elkanah’s words are of course prophetic.

Hannah brings Samuel to Eli and with no little joy exclaims, “Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” (28)

Hannah prays a psalm of joy and thanksgiving, which is basically a pre-echo of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke. For example, Hannah prays,
He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honor.” (2:8)

And Mary prays,
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52, 53)

Both women have been blessed by God with a son, and both women are grateful to God for answered prayer. Hannah and Elkanah return home and the reading closes with Samuel, who “remained to minister to the Lord, in the presence of the priest Eli.” (2:11)

I think Luke has intentionally used Hannah’s thanksgiving prayer to remind us that Mary’s son Jesus will be used by God in powerful ways just as we will see that Samuel was used powerfully by God in Israel.

Luke 23:44–56: Luke records the dramatic details that surround Jesus’ death: “the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” (45) Luke’s Jesus utters his last words, a public announcement about two of the three persons of the Trinity:“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (46)

In a detail recorded only here in Luke, and clearly for the encouragement of his Gentile community, we learn that “When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” (47) [And is also the basis of Lew Wallace’s famous book, and Richard Burton’s famous first movie, “The Robe”]

The spectacle over, the crowd departs, “but all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (49) Luke does not have to tell us what Jesus’ followers are feeling. This simple line is suffused with utter and total abandonment. Things had turned out so differently than the bright promise of just five days earlier. The must have been wondering how things could have gone so desperately wrong. And we wonder as they stood in silence if they recalled any of Jesus’ numerous warnings that something like this would happen.

Joseph of Arimathea, “a good and righteous man” (50) was a member of the council but “had not agreed to their plan and action.” (51a) What we rarely hear about this Joseph is that “he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.” (51b) Was he still waiting expectantly now that Jesus was dead? His actions in asking Pilate for the body and laying “it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid” (53) suggest that he had resigned himself to the reality that the kingdom of God was a chimera, but that Jesus and his ministry at least deserved a dignified ending. Would that Luke had told us Joseph’s thought when he heard about the resurrection.

Luke provides the important detail that “the women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid.” (55) Had they not observed this, the crucial events of the Resurrection may have turned out quite differently since the location of the tomb would have remained unknown. As we well know, it is the women returning to the tomb to anoint the body who become the crucial first witnesses to the miracle of Resurrection.

 

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