Psalm 118:10–14; 2 Samuel 1; John 6:43–51

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

Psalm 118:10–14: Having praised God and observing that God’s shelter is far superior to trusting princes, i.e., leaders and politicians, our psalmist turns to describe a personal event where God provided the needed strength to overcome his enemies:
All the nations surrounded me.
With the Lord’s name I cut them down.
They swarmed round me, oh the surrounded me.
With the Lord’s name I cut them down.” (10, 11)

We’ve observed in our readings in I Samuel that David always prayed to God for guidance before he undertook any military mission. So these words, whether actually spoken by David or not, certainly reflect his close connection to God.

Notice also that it is in “the Lord’s name” that the psalmist is able to act. God did not intervene supernaturally. While he is the one who actually cut down his enemies in battle, he is able to do so only in God’s name. The lesson for us is that no matter what adversaries or circumstances we may face, it is prayer in the Lord’s name that empowers us to (hopefully wise) action.

Our psalmist goes on to repeat over and over how it was the Lord’s name that gave him the strength to act against his enemies using a powerful simile:
They swarmed round me like bees,
burned a fire among thorns.

With the Lord’s name I cut them down.” (12)

Speaking directly to his enemy, our poet tells him that “You pushed me hard to knock me down,/ But the Lord helped me.” (13) For those of us who have a deep connection to God through Jesus Christ, these are words that we can identify with. It doesn’t have to be in military battle, but in our personal battles with illness or broken relationships. These words also speak to a community such as the church in a post-Christian world.

Indeed, God is the source of our ability to act. But even more importantly, it is our reliance on God that rescues us as well:
My strength and my might is Yah,
and He has become my rescue
. (14)

Contrary to how our culture—especially politicians—would have it, it is not about “I would do this” or “I will do that.” Our strength and our salvation lie not in ourselves, but in our deep relationship with God through jesus Christ.

2 Samuel 1: A man, who is a resident alien Amalekite, arrives at David’s camp with the terrible news that Saul and Jonathan have been killed in battle. At first, David is in denial and demands of the messenger,“How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan died?” (5) The man responds that the badly injured Saul “looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me.” (7) He tells Saul he is an Amalekite and Saul asks him, “‘Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’” (9) Which the Amalekite does. He also removes Saul’s crown and armlet and brings them to David.

This account is puzzling because we have just read that Saul committed suicide by falling on his sword. It certainly suggests that the author of 1 Samuel is not the same person as the author of 2 Samuel.

In any event, apparently knowing already that David is Saul’s successor as king, the Amalekite hands over Saul’s armlet and crown to David, doubtless expecting to be praised for his action. But David is beyond despair and “took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel.” (11, 12)

David turns to the Amalekite who bought the news and asks, “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” (14) We never hear the man’s answer because Saul commands one of his men, “Come here and strike him down.” (15). Which he does. David does not hesitate to kill the messenger bringing such awful news, but justifies it on the basis of the grievous sin of killing “the Lord’s anointed.” Frankly, there seems to be a bit of whitewashing of David’s reputation here.

David’s lamentation for Saul and Jonathan is expressed in the Song of the Bow, which he commands be taught to the people of Israel and has been written in the now lost Book of Jashar. Happily, it’s also preserved here.

For me, the most beautiful verse of the psalm is,
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
    In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
    they were stronger than lions.” (23)

But the more famous verse is,
How the mighty have fallen
    in the midst of the battle!” (25)

Even though Saul relentlessly tried to kill David, this lamentation is an honest expression of David’s respect for Saul and especially for the office he held because Saul was the Lord’s anointed. But there is also no question that David’s deeper sorrow is over the loss of his friend, Jonathan:
 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
    your love to me was wonderful,
    passing the love of women. (26)

John 6:43–51: As we’ve observed before, John’s Jesus never hides the fact that he is the Son of God, who is the Father’s representative on earth. In a preview of the more famous verse in the Upper Room Discourse, where Jesus says “no one comes to the father but by me,” Jesus asserts, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” (44) Here, we are “drawn” to the father, presumably by the Holy Spirit, so we can see that Jesus is speaking of the Trinity here although the word, “Trinity” is never used in the Bible.

Jesus goes on to tell his listeners that “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God,’” (45) rather strongly implying that in hearing Jesus those prophetic words have come true. He reminds them that “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (46) Again, the strong implication is that Jesus alone has seen God and therefore he is indeed the Word that has been sent to earth by God.

We again encounter belief as the overarching theme of this gospel: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (47) Jesus is asking his listeners—and us—that by believing, we will receive everlasting sustenance from him as he again states, “I am the bread of life.” (48) By again reminding them of how their ancestors ate manna from God in the wilderness, those who believe in Jesus will receive a new manna—bread—which of course is Jesus himself.

To make sure we all get the point, Jesus repeats himself: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” (51a) In short, eating “the bread of life” is the symbol for believing. Jesus then hints at a darker fate as he links the bread of life directly to himself: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (51b) As we know (and as the Jews listening to Jesus will find out), the bread becomes available to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And we participate in eating this bread that Jesus links directly to himself each time we celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist. [Although I hew to the belief that the communion bread is symbolic of Jesus’ flesh, not, as the Catholics believe, Jesus’ physical body.]

This is all mighty deep theology!

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