Psalm 117; 1 Samuel 28,29; John 6:16–24

Originally published 10/7/2016. Revised and updated 10/8/2018.

Psalm 117: This is the shortest Psalm and therefore the shortest chapter in the bible. But within its brevity we find profundity. Rather than focusing on the poet or even the entire nation of Israel, its theme is universal. God is the God of all humankind and the worship of all humankind is our response:
Praise the Lord, all nations;
extol Him, all peoples.
 (1)

The two qualities of God that the psalmist brings out are his kindness and his truth. God’s kindness is far beyond adequate; it is overflowing:
For His kindness overwhelms us, (2a)

Reflect for a moment on the implications of this phrase. What would it feel like to be overwhelmed with kindness? Especially God’s kindness. What a glorious sense of connection and peace that would be.

God’s truth is the pillar that stands alongside his kindness:
and the Lord’s steadfast truth is forever. (2b)

God’s truth is not just comparative. It does not merely stand among other human-derived “truths.” Rather, it trumps every idea of ‘truth’ especially in this age of individualism where one person’s ‘truth’ is another’s falsity.

Moreover, God’s truth transcends time; it never changes and it never wavers. It is the one reference point we can use to discover exactly what is true and what is false. Alas, having abandoned God’s truth, we have become a culture that is adrift and sinking—as witness recent events in Washington DC where two person’s account of truth contradict each other.

Jesus makes this universality of God’s kindness and truth crystal clear, especially in the gospel of John. We can trace this verse directly to John 3:16: For God so loved the world… With the psalmist, we can only conclude this wonderful reality with that single response: “Hallelujah.”

1 Samuel 28,29: Having abandoned Israel to escape Saul, David has become the mercenary for King Achish of Gath and is living among the Philistines. David carries out raid after raid, killing everyone. Achish is pretty pleased about this and “Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” (28:2)

Our authors leave David at Gath and turn their attention to Saul, who faces an imminent attack from the Philistines and “when Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.” (28:5) In his panic, Saul pleads foxhole prayers, but God does not answer. So Saul has his servants find a medium, the famous “witch of Endor” (as she is called in the KJV).

Saul visits the medium in disguise at night and asks her to summon the spirit of Samuel. Saul convinces her he won’t punish her for being a medium and she reluctantly obliges the king. When Samuel appears, the woman realizes who Saul is. [One wonders at this point about all those Christians who felt that Harry Potter was a malign influence because of its theme of magic and spells. Yet here’s a pretty dramatic example right here in Scripture.]

Samuel’s rather annoyed to be called forth and when he hears Saul’s whining complaint that God has abandoned him, the ghost of Samuel replies in no uncertain terms: “The Lord has done to you just as he spoke by me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David.” (28:17) This is payback for Saul’s failure to carry out God’s “fierce wrath against Amalek, [and] therefore the Lord has done this thing to you today.” (18) Samuel is dreadfully clear about what will happen: “tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.” (19)

Already weak from hunger, Saul faints. The woman of Endor, who at this point sounds like the quintessential Jewish mother, tells Saul he needs something to eat. She prepares an early breakfast of beef and cakes. A revived Saul and his men depart.

Meanwhile David has gathered his men to fight on the side of the Philistines. The “commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” (29:3) Achish explains that since David “deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” (29:3) But the commanders will have nothing to do with David and order Achish to send David back “to the place you have assigned to him” (29:4) and that he will not participate in the battle with Israel. After all, they argue, this is the same “David, of whom they sing to one another in dances,

‘Saul has killed his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands’?” (29:5)

Achish brings the bad news to David, who is upset and echoes what he said to Saul so many times: “But what have I done? … that I should not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” (29:8) Achish tries to reassure him, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God; nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ (9)

David and his men return to Philistia. Of course from the perspective of knowing how the story turns out, it would have been disastrous for David to fight against his own countrymen. Sometimes the hand of God works in unexpected ways with the long term outcome in view. This is certainly one of those times. We also should be patient when God is silent or does not answer the way we want him to.

John 6:16–24: John tells only an abbreviated story of Jesus walking on water. It’s almost dark and Jesus has not returned. The disciples “ got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum.” (17) Three or four miles out the storm comes up. Unlike the other gospel accounts where the disciples are terrified because of the storm, here in John they are terrified when “they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat” (19) Which is exactly how I’d feel if I saw somebody walking toward me on the water.

Jesus utters his famous words, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (21) Which is John’s point of the story. Regardless of our circumstances, we know that with Jesus we have no need to be afraid. Needless to say, I am much more like the disciples…

John adds a new twist to this famous story, telling us that the crowd on the shore of Tiberias saw that the disciples had left without Jesus, but they couldn’t find him either. So “they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” (24)

Of course John has a larger meaning here than just some people following Jesus over to Capernaum. We are all looking for Jesus. And in that looking, we are to follow him wherever he takes us.

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