Psalm 109:1–7; 1 Samuel 14:1–40; John 2:1–11

Originally published 9/22/2016. revised and updated 9/22/2018.

Psalm 109:1–7: This is a highly personal psalm of supplication and we can well imagine King David praying this psalm (even if he didn’t write it). The root cause of this prayer is slander being hurled against him:
God of my praise, do not be silent.
For the wicked’s mouth, the mouth of deceit,
has opened against me,
they spoke to me with lying tongue
. (1b, 2)

Like insects, these “words of hatred swarmed around me” (3a), while David asserts the accusations are without foundation: “they battle me for no cause.” (3b)

The slander is even harder to take because not only does David believe he is innocent of the accusations, up to this point the accusers have been his friends:
In return for my love they accuse me,
though my prayer is for them
. (4)

There are fewer greater causes of despair than to feel betrayed and beaten down by someone we believed to be our friend—or even our lover.

This sense of betrayal becomes even more intense in the assertion that these former friends have reciprocated his love with hatred:
And they offer me evil in return for good
and hatred in return for my love.
 (5)

I have never been slandered but there have been a few times in a relationship where I think I’m being loving only to have the object of my love return my efforts with calumny. Perhaps some reflection on my part—as well as the psalmist’s—is called for. Have I really truly loved that person or have I been deceiving myself?

At verse 6, the point of view shifts as the accusers begin speaking and we get to actually hear the slander itself:
Appoint a wicked man over him,
let an accuser stand at his right
. (6)

This verse communicates the sense that his accusers have said, “See you in court,” and then proceed to ensure he does not receive a fair trial:
When he is judged, let him come out guilty,
and his prayer be an offense
. (7)

In fact, the accusers want to follow the old saw, “Give the guilty bastard a fair trial and then hang him.” But even worse are the accusers desire for God to take their side and recognize that David’s prayers are offensive to God. It’s one thing to be unjustly accused; it’s quite another to be told God won’t listen to David’s prayers because he’s been a hypocrite.

1 Samuel 14:1–40: Doubtless tired of being in hiding, Saul’s son, Jonathan, decides to see if he can mount an attack on the Philistines. He and his armor-bearer sneak out of camp and head to the Philistine garrison. Jonathan believes that “it may be that the Lord will act for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (6) The test to see if God will act in their favor is simple: When the Philistines see them and if they say, “‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up; for the Lord has given them into our hand. That will be the sign for us.” (10)

Sneaking in on their hands and feet, the two men take out about 20 Philistines. God would seem to be on their side.  Jonathan’s action “creates panic in the [Philistine] camp, in the field, and among all the people; the garrison and even the raiders trembled;” (15a) As if in proof of God approving of this sortie, “the earth quaked; and it became a very great panic.” (15b)

Seeing this commotion from a distance, Saul’s army suddenly materializes, coming out of hiding, and Israel joins in the battle Jonathan initiated: “So the Lord gave Israel the victory that day.” (23) Sensing potential victory, Saul rashly commands that “Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies.” (24) The troops obey him, “But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the troops with the oath” (27) and proceeds to dip his staff into a honeycomb and eat. When a soldier points out that the troops have not eaten Jonathan astutely observes, My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if today the troops had eaten freely of the spoil taken from their enemies.” (29)

The starving troops take all kinds of animals, slaughter them and eat them along with their blood, which of course is ritually unclean. Saul gives the order for everyone to bring their animals to a central spot where he builds an altar “to the Lord.” The lesson here is one that rings down through the centuries: soldiers must be fed if they are to perform at their best. I’m fascinated to find this basic rule right here in the Bible.

Ever acting in too much haste, Saul decides they should attack the Philistines in a night raid, but the priest suggests they consult with God first. Saul directly questions God: “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” (37) But God remains silent. Saul is convinced the silence is due to an as yet unconfessed sin. Again, he speaks before thinking: “For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, even if it is in my son Jonathan, he shall surely die!” (39) But the troops remain silent. The tension at this point is palpable.

The lesson seems obvious: Think before speaking, especially when you’re making vows before God. Our culture does not take vows quite as seriously, I fear, although our political leader is certainly given to making intemperate statements on Twitter.

John 2:1–11: Jesus, his mother Mary, and his new disciples attend a wedding in Cana. Mary points out to Jesus that “They have no wine.” (3) No matter how I look at it, Jesus’ reply to his sainted mother seems brusque, even rude: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (4) However, Mary knows her son well and feels he will indeed act as she tells the servants “Do whatever he tells you.” (5) Jesus promptly turns the water in six twenty to thirty gallon stone jugs into fine wine.

This miracle is not recorded in the synoptics and once again it is fraught with symbolism. Yes, the wedding guests get good wine to drink, but for our gospel writer John the larger meaning is that the miracle is a sign of Jesus’ transformative power. If he can change water into wine, reflect for a moment what he can—and is about to—do with human beings. Moreover, this transformation has a single direction: from the mundane to the best. When our lives are transformed through Jesus they will be far greater than before.

Of course this miracle also includes the two great symbols of Christianity: the water of baptism and the wine representing Jesus’ blood that has been shed for us.

John seems to suggest that Jesus performed this miracle to convince his disciples that he is who they think he is: the Messiah. “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (11) For John, Jesus’ disciples know from the outset exactly who Jesus is. There are none of the questions and doubts we encounter among the disciples we meet in the Synoptics.

 

 

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