Psalm 107:23–32; 1 Samuel 9; John 1:1–13

Originally published 9/17/2016. revised and updated 9/18/2018.

Psalm 107:23–32:
Those who go down to the sea in ships,
who do tasks in the mighty waters
It is they who have seen the deeds of the Lord,
and His wonders in the deep. (23, 24)

The first two lines of this verse are famously quoted in Melville’s Moby Dick by the preacher at the Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford before the crew of the Pequod sets out on their doomed journey. Perhaps it is in the vastness of the ocean where one becomes more aware of God’s creative power. And even today scientists are discovering “deeds of the Lord” in the ocean depths that no one could ever have imagined.

But these verses about the sea seem almost to be a different poem, inserted here in the midst of the psalm about freed captives trudging home in the wilderness. Suddenly we have a new subject—sailors—enduring storms on the sea:
He [God] speaks and raises the stormwind
and it makes the waves loom high. (25)

On the other hand there is a striking parallel here in the juxtaposition of some suffering in the heat of the desert while others suffer in the midst of God’s mighty ocean.

In a verse that seems to pre-echo Paul’s shipwreck described in Acts 27, we can feel the tiny ship being tossed to and fro by the mighty waves as the sailors attempt to hang on in this brilliant description of the impact on humans during a storm at sea:
They go up to the heavens,
come down to the depths,
their life-breath in hardship grows faint.
They reel and sway like a drunkard,
all their wisdom is swallowed up
.” (26, 27)

Like those souls lost in the desert, “they cry to the Lord” (28a). And once again, God is their rescuer: “from their straits from their distress He brings them out.” (28b)

In lines that bring to mind Jesus calming the sea of Galilee, God acts:
He turns the storm into silence, and its waves are stilled,
and the rejoice that these have grown quiet.
” (29, 30a)

I don’t think it’s stretching these verses too far to read them as a metaphor for how earnest prayer can calm the stormy emotional seas of our own lives.

As always, our response to being brought by God to safe harbor away from the storm is gratitude expressed in worship in a reprise of verse 31:
Let them acclaim to the Lord in His kindness
and His wonders to humankind

Storms, Prayer, rescue, worship should be the liturgy of our life. For only God through Jesus Christ can calm the storms of our heart.

1 Samuel 9: Saul, “a handsome young man” is chosen to be Israel’s king. As is even the case today, it is tall people who win out: “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” (2)

While searching in vain for his father’s lost donkeys, Saul feels they have traveled too far and that his father will begin to worry about his absence. The boy with him suggests they find a man of God, a plan to which Saul agrees. In a Hollywood-like coincidence, they come upon Samuel. It turns out that “the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel.” (16) When Samuel sees Saul, God speaks up again to make sure the old priest got the message: “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.” (17)

Saul is rather puzzled when Samuel tells him it is he “on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and on all your ancestral house?” (20) Saul replies that “I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin.” (21) Nevertheless, Saul dines with Samuel and is invited to stay overnight. The next morning, Samuel awakens Saul and they leave town together. Once they reach the town’s outskirts, Samuel tells Saul to send his boy on ahead of them. Samuel has an important task to perform…

What’s striking to me here is that even though Saul becomes a tyrant in the end (just as God predicted would happen), Saul is God’s choice. God has not abandoned Israel and has been careful to choose the best leader for them. But as always, it is Israel and then Saul who eventually abandons God. Nevertheless, Saul is God’s man at this moment.

John 1:1–13: The last of the gospels to be written, John opens with a theological treatise. There is no John the baptizer as in Mark or nativity stories as in Matthew and Luke. Rather, John’s opening scene is in heaven itself at the beginning of time: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1) And to make sure we get the point, John repeats himself: “He was in the beginning with God.” (2) The Word—who we will learn is Jesus—was with God at the beginning of creation—and is therefore the source of life itself: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (3)

In fact, for John, the Word is the source of light that separated all life from the darkness. This is not just the darkness of night, but impenetrable blackness As we will see throughout this gospel, the Light is just one of the many metaphors for Jesus. Those who reject Jesus remain in this theological darkness.

John gives fairly short shrift to John the Baptist, making sure his community—and we— understand that the Baptizer was simply the messenger; that he “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” (8) In a subtle pun, John informs us that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (9) Much hangs on the word, “enlighten.”  For me, this is really John’s theme of the book: that the stories of Jesus he is writing about will enlighten us.

John also gives away the ending right here in the opening verses by telling us how Jesus was rejected by the Jews, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (11) But more importantly, that in that rejection the Good News came to all humankind: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (12) As we will see, John is all about “believing.” And it is believing in the Light that is life-changing.

At first read the final verse about the children of God seems puzzling: “who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (13) It is the children of God—those who believe in Jesus—who are not born of ancestral blood or of the sexual act (the will of the flesh). Rather they are born of God himself. This is a theological  precursor of the theme of being “born again” that Jesus takes up with Nicodemus in chapter 3.


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