Psalm 107:1–9; 1 Samuel 3,4; Luke 24:13–27

Originally published 9/14/2016. revised and updated 9/14/2018.

Psalm 107:1–9: This psalm of collective thanksgiving opens with a pretty standard invocation—but one it would be good to hear open worship every Sunday morning:
Acclaim the Lord, for He is good
for His kindness is forever. (1)

The psalm goes on to celebrate the event of scattered Israel returning from exile:
Let the Lord’s redeemed ones say,
whom He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
and gathered them from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.” (2, 3)

Here, redemption is not theological but political. Those celebrating apparently have been held captive and through God’s intervention they have been set free to return home, which is far away. This suggests this is a psalm that would have been offered in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s time after the Babylonian exile and the beginning of the restoration of Jerusalem.

Our poet evokes the Exodus story, but this later wandering sounds even more desperate than the original wandering in the wilderness since it appears there was no cloud or fire leading them nor was there water and food. Instead, they were more like released captives trying to get back home after many years, some near death or even dying on the journey:
They wandered in wilderness, waste land,
found no road to a settled town,
hungry, thirsty, too,
their life-breath failed within them. (4, 5)

These wanderers cry out and God responds with rescue:
And they cried to the Lord in their straits,
and from their distress He saved them
.
He led them on a straight road
to go to a settled town. 
 (6, 7)

I’m tempted to add another layer of meaning to ‘straight road,’ as in following God’s way, but I think the psalmist is simply referring to the fact that God led Israel physically back to Jerusalem—the ‘settled town.’

God’s rescue through Jesus Christ is the root cause for our celebration and thanksgiving as well:
Let them acclaim to the Lord His kindness
and His wonders to humankind.
 (8)

Notice the evangelical connotation here: that rescued Israel would shout to any and all nations around them about God’s manifest mercy.

1 Samuel 3,4: Although he is still a boy, “Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli.” (3:1) BUt he is clearly in a minority as the authors note that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” (3:1b)

In this famous story that I first heard in Sunday School back in the 1950’s, Samuel hears God’s voice, but logically assumes it is Eli who is calling him. Eli tells him to go back to bed, but Samuel hears God’s voice once again. Samuel awakens his guardian priest once again, who once again tells him to go back to bed. Finally, on the third go, Eli realizes what’s happening: that God is indeed calling Samuel. Eli instructs the boy to lie down again and when he hears the voice to say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ (9)

God does not bring good news but announces that the fate awaiting Eli and his family is about to be executed: “For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” (13)

The boy is understandably reluctant to convey this bad news to Eli. But Eli insists and “Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.” (18) Thus begins Samuel’s prophetic career and “the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” (3:21)

Chapter 4 opens with the defeat of Israel by the Philistines. Four thousand soldiers lay dead, and it occurs to the Israeli generals that they need to have the Ark of the Covenant, currently located at Shiloh, brought to the field of battle, as a source of power and encouragement to the troops for the ongoing battle. The Ark arrives and all Israel begins shouting. It appears the ark is having its intended effect. When the Philistines learn this they “were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.” (4:7)

But the Philistines regain their courage and ultimately defeat Israel, leaving 30,000 dead men in the field. Even worse, the ark is captured, and as predicted, the two sons of Eli die. A messenger brings the bad news back to Shiloh. Eli is already fearful and it’s clear here that he unsuccessfully resisted the plan to take the ark into battle: “for his heart trembled for the ark of God.” (4:13) The messenger tells Eli what has happened: “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the troops; your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” (4:17) Eli, who we learn is 98 years old, falls over, breaks his neck and dies.

Eli’s pregnant daughter-in-law goes into early labor. Just before she dies, she names her son, Ichabod, “meaning, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.” (4:21) Inasmuch as the man from God promises that Eli’s family will be wiped out we wonder what will happen with Ichabod.

There are several morals to this story, but for me the lesson is that God will not be trifled with. The disastrous decision to bring the ark into the field as some sort of talismanic encouragement to the troops is clearly a form of blasphemy. The lesson for us is that we cannot bend God to our own will and purposes. And yet that is exactly what people and entire nations have tried to do ever since this ancient battle. This story is a powerful reminder to those who claim that God is on America’s side or more recently, that God has a special affection for America, just as he once did for Israel. Well, not really. Look what happened here. The real question is, are we on God’s side?

Luke 24:13–27: Only Luke records the walk to Emmaus. Two of Jesus’ disciples not of the inner circle depart Jerusalem in deep sadness. As they walk along, Jesus joins them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (16)

As if he didn’t already know, Jesus asks what the two are discussing. They rather incredulously reply that this stranger must be the only guy around for miles that didn’t know what happened in Jerusalem three days ago: “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” (19) They state what every follower of Jesus had wanted: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (21).

They go on to relate the mysterious events at the tomb and that “some women of our group astounded us,” (22) and that the people there “had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” (23). I gather that these two discouraged walkers were among a large number of people who stopped by the empty tomb on their way out of town. But no one, including these two, had yet seen Jesus.

Jesus replies, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” (25) He then launches into a theological treatise and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (27)

This story is Luke’s way of conveying directly and forcefully that Jesus was indeed the Jewish messiah and that he was the complete fulfillment of all that had been prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures. It’s a different literary technique than Matthew and John who repeatedly say through the course of his public ministry that when Jesus did such and such it was “so the scriptures would be fulfilled.” Luke saves this revelation up for the very powerful human drama that is the walk to Emmaus. The two men are all of Israel; indeed, they are all of us. Luke is certainly making it clear that Jesus is indeed the unrecognized Jewish Messiah.

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