Psalm 109:8–20; 1 Samuel 14:41–15:23; John 2:12–25

Originally published 9/23/2016. revised and updated 9/24/2018.

Psalm 109:8–20: Our psalmist’s anger is on full display as he hurls a list of serious imprecations at his enemy, including wishing for his death:
Let his days be few,
may another man take his post
May his children become orphans
and his wife a widow.” (8,9)

And not only that he would suffer, but that his progeny suffer as well.
May his children wander and beg,
driven out from the ruins of their homes

May no one extend him kindness
and no one pity his orphans.
May his offspring be cut off,
in the next generation his name wiped out.” (10, 12, 13)

As we know, descendants were how a person (always a man) would be remembered. To have no progeny is to be forgotten, which is to be cursed.

But our psalmist’s not finished yet. After this recitation of his anger, he turns to God and prays that this person be cursed by God himself. He asks God that there be no forgiveness, no redemption:
May the wrong of his fathers be recalled by the Lord
and his mother’s offense not be wiped out.
Let these be ever before the Lord,
that He cut off from earth their name.” (14, 15)

OK, we know this guy is really, really angry because of the hurt that has been inflicted on him. But is it really OK to pray for the humiliation and even death of others? Of course the answer is no. But as we’ve observed many times, the psalms are where the raw emotions of life are expressed. Expressing deep anger in the form of a prayer of imprecation is probably a pretty healthy way to work it out. It is certainly better than confronting the object of his anger. Who knows what might happen? As we know all to well, anger is often expressed with gun in hand to terrible consequences.

At this point, having expressed his venom, our poet turns to describing the specific offenses of the man he wishes to be cursed:
Because he did not remember to do kindness
and pursued the poor and the needy,
the heartsore, to put him to death. 
(16)

We assume the psalmist is expressing anger toward some official or leader who has betrayed those he led. These are pretty heinous offenses and as we know, oppressing the poor and helpless is one of the greatest sins one can commit against God.

Finally, our angry poet points out that these curses are in fact his enemy’s just desserts because his enemy has ignored God:
He loved a curse, may it come upon him,
he desired not blessing—may it stay far from him
. (17)

And he prays that the curses envelopes this enemy’s entire being—like the clothing he wears:
He donned curse as his garb—
may it enter his innards like water
and like oil in his bones.
May it be like a garment he wraps round him

and like a belt he girds at all times. (18, 19))

Everything our psalmist has spoken about here has been in the form of a prayer—and it is God whom he asks to act, circling back around to the fact that he is the object of a conspiracy:
This be the plight of my accusers from the Lord,
and those who speak against my life.
 (20)

What’s interesting here is that David (or our psalmist) realizes that vengeance and the effects of curses are God’s work. He has no intention of inflicting these curses on his enemy by himself. God must be the agency of action.

The question hangs in the air: now that we are covered by the terms of the New Covenant, Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies. Therefore, to pray this prayer would be against everything Jesus taught us. No wonder Jesus was viewed as such a radical.

1 Samuel 14:41–15:23: Saul wants to know if it is he or his son Jonathan who has sinned and relies on the trusty Urim and Thummim to provide the answer. The answer is that it is Jonathan who confesses that he has tasted the honey and tells his father, “here I am, I will die.” (14:44) Which is a strong indicator of a courageous character that seems far less present in his father. Saul is about to carry out the terms of his most stupid vow when the people of Israel intervene and logically ask,: ” “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great victory in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground; for he has worked with God today.” (45) Jonathan is freed, but we suspect he has no great love for a father who was willing to execute him.

Saul is the quintessential warrior king and fights battles on every side “There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any strong or valiant warrior, he took him into his service.” (14:52) Samuel tells Saul that God has decided that Israel should “punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” (15:2) and that they be utterly destroyed. Saul proceeds to win that battle. Only the king of the Amalekites is spared, “but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.” (15:8) However, they keep the booty—a move that ultimately will prove unwise.

Observing that Saul has failed to carry out the command to “utterly destroy,” God tells Samuel, “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” (15:10) This is a fascinating glimpse into the nature of the Old Covenant God: that he makes decisions he later regrets. This is hardly the omnipotent, all-wise God we imagine today.

In any event, when Samuel finds Saul, Saul announces “I have carried out the command of the Lord.” (13) But Samuel replies, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” (14) which is the booty of the Amalekites. Samuel, effectively saying, “And what part of ‘utterly destroy’ don’t you understand, Saul?,” chastises the king for not destroying the Amalekites by sparing their king and keeping the spoils of war. Saul attempts to use religion to justify his actions, telling Samuel that he “took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” (21) But notice the giveaway: Saul says “the Lord your God,” i.e., Samuel’s God. Saul has in effect once again set himself above God and acted accordingly. Something I do all the time…

This time, Saul’s disobedience to the clear orders of God has devastating consequences as Samuel pronounces the king’s doom:
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.” (15:23)

Again and again the theme of the OT is that strict obedience in every jot and tittle of the Law  is God’s expectation—especially of Israel’s king. Saul is all of us as we rationalize so many of our actions that are in fact disobedience to God’s clear word.

John 2:12–25: Once again we encounter a significant difference between this gospel and the Synoptics. In the other gospels, Jesus cleanses the temple during his last week in Jerusalem. Here, much earlier in the story, Jesus made a whip and drives the sheep and cattle (not the moneychangers as some assume) out of the temple. Jesus demands a very clear division between commerce and worship: “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (16). This is something televangelists would do well to remember when they ask for donations and live wealthy lifestyles. I’m talking about you, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, and your ilk.

The disciples “remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (17) and the Jews ask for a sign. Jesus answers, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (19). The Jews place him for a fool, observing it’s taken 46 years to build the temple. But John, ever helpful, tells us that “he was speaking of the temple of his body.” John also helpfully points out that “after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this.” (22) Unlike the Synoptics, ever helpful John does not make us guess about Jesus’ many ambiguous statements.

What’s interesting here—and again quite different than the Synoptics—is that Jesus effectively begins his ministry in Jerusalem during Passover, not in Galilee. And he gathers followers there as “many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.” (23) But Jesus would not become their leader even though—or perhaps because, “he himself knew what was in everyone.” (24) Once again, John presents Jesus in a much more straightforward manner as the embodiment of God than the more gradual build-up to his divinity that we see in the Synoptics.

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