Psalm 108:7–14; 1 Samuel 13; John 1:43–51

Originally published 9/21/2016. revised and updated 9/21/2018.

Psalm 108:7–14: The tone of the psalm abruptly shifts from thanksgiving to supplication as our poet pleads,
that Your beloved ones be saved,
rescue with Your right hand, answer me.
 (7)

He recalls that “God once spoke in His holiness:” (8a) and then proceeds to quote much of Psalm 60—a catalog of places in Israel God has blessed—speaking in God’s voice:
Let me exult and share out Shechem,
and the valley of Sukkoth I shall measure.
Mine is Gilead, Mine Manasseh,
and Ephraim My foremost stronghold,
Judah my scepter. (8b, 9)

Likewise, the places God has cursed as the poet continues writing in God’s voice:
Moab is my washbasin,
upon Edom I fling my sandal,
over Philistia I shout exultant. (10)

But then we hear the poet’s frustrated cry, indicating that the present straits are dire indeed:
Have You not, O God, abandoned us?
You do not sally forth, O God, with our armies.
 (12)

At this point the psalm becomes a foxhole prayer. The men of Israel’s army have tried everything on their own, now in desperation they finally turn to God for aid: “\
Give us help against the
foe when rescue by man is in vain.
 (13)

But notice the prayer is not for some kind of divine intervention or miracle so much as it is for God to renew their downtrodden spirit:
Through God we shall gather strength,
and He will stamp out our foes.
 (14)

I think the key here is that when we are besieged on all sides, we turn to God for the strength of will to forge onward. Too often, though, our prayers are for God to do some sort of divine intervention for us. Like our psalmist, we should be praying for God to renew our own strength and courage for the task ahead.

1 Samuel 13: Saul’s kingly career appears to be dedicated to fighting the Philistines. He winnows his army down in 3000—2000 under his command, 1000 under his son Jonathan’s—in order to include only the best fighters. Saul is confident and “the rest of the people he sent home to their tents.” (2) However, the Philistines have the technological advantage of 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, as well as “troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude.” (5) All of Israel around Gilgal are under siege and “the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns.” (6) Those in the army still following Saul were also trembling in fear. Over-confident Saul has made a severe strategic error.

Saul waits seven days for Samuel to arrive to make a sacrifice as he was instructed by the old judge to do. But Saul is impatient and sees that his troops are deserting him. So he takes it upon himself offers a burnt sacrifice without Samuel present. Samuel shows up almost immediately afterward and asks,  “What have you done?” (11) Saul rather lamely explains that his troops were deserting him and he had to act to make sure he had God’s favor. Samuel chastises him, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you.” (13)

Saul pays a heavy price for his impetuousness as Samuel tells him that a dynasty arising from his line will not happen: “now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart;” (14a) God has decided on another (and we know who!) through which the dynasty will continue: the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”  (14) And of course it is that dynasty out of which Jesus will come. Saul pays a heavy price to pay for his impatience.

Saul is down to a mere 600 troops and they endure three raids by the Philistines. To ensure that Israel could not arm itself, the Philistines had banned blacksmiths: “There was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel,” (19) And they forced the people to go “down to the Philistines to sharpen their plowshares, mattocks, axes, or sickles.” (20) [Our authors even helpfully provide us with the price list for these service!] “So on the day of the battle neither sword nor spear was to be found in the possession of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan.” (22) Only Saul and Jonathan have swords and spears.

Things are not looking good for Israel.

I can really sympathize with Saul as he waits for seven days and watches his once-strong army desert him. I think I’d take matters into my own hands just as he did. But acting too hastily and attempting to control events can have dire consequences as Saul found out to his sorrow. So, yes, I should wait patiently as things develop. But like Saul, it’s tempting to act on our own when God continues to be silent.

John 1:43–51: In the Synoptics Jesus is already at Capernaum in Galilee when he meets Peter. However, in John that encounter apparently happened in Bethsaida and our writer tells us that Philip is also from “the city of Andrew and Peter.” (44)

Social networking is hardly a new phenomenon, and it’s Philip who “found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (45) Nathaniel, in a wonderfully cynical statement asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (46) Rather than answer, Philips simply invites his friend to, “Come and see.”

Philip is a great lesson for all of us. It is not theological or philosophical arguments that bring people to Jesus. Nor can we convince them or change their lives. Rather, our duty is to invite; to ask someone to “come and see” for themselves. That’s when the Holy Spirit takes over.

As Nathaniel approaches Jesus, whom he has never met, Jesus exclaims, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathaniel logically wonders how Jesus knew him well enough to make that assertion and asks, “Where did you get to know me?” (48) Jesus replies he saw him off in the distance under the fig tree with Philip. This insight causes Nathaniel to become an instant convert for he has truly come and truly seen: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (49) Jesus assures him that he “will see greater things than these.” (50)

As will invariably be the case through the book, our gospel writer is writing at both the narrative and symbolic levels. Yes, there’s a physical encounter between Jesus and Nathaniel, but Nathaniel is also the symbolic stand-in for everyone who asks cynically who this Jesus is and when they encounter him—when they ‘come and see’—their lives are changed forever.

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