Psalm 118:22–29; 2 Samuel 3:1–34; John 6:60–71

Originally published 10/12/2016. Revised and updated 10/12/2018.

Psalm 118:22–29: We encounter the verse that Jesus quoted in reference to himself (Matt 21:42, also Mark & Luke) and that is also referred to Peter’s sermon in Acts 4, as well as in Ephesians and 1 Peter:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
 (22)

In the NT, this verse stands for Jesus and the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah. In the context of this psalm, however, the metaphor refers to the psalmist himself as he reflects on his former woeful state compared to his newfound strength through God’s restorative powers.

But the verse following is equally important and it doubtless came to mind among the Jews when Jesus referred to the chief cornerstone, only strengthening the Pharisee’s accusation of blasphemy:
From the Lord did this come about—
it is wondrous in our eyes.
 (23)

But as the gospel of John makes clear over and over, Jesus has indeed come from directly God and this act of incarnation is wondrous for all humankind.

The verse that follows is equally well known:
This is the day the Lord has wrought.
Let us exult and rejoice in it
” (24)

We often casually toss off these words on Sunday mornings. But here in context, its meaning for Christians is far richer. This is indeed the day that God has created and it is the day—every day—when we realize that the Rejected Cornerstone has indeed rescued us. That is the beauty to reflect on each morning when we awake: Not just the beauty of God’s creation but his munificent act in sending Jesus Christ to us: rejected in his time and culture—and increasingly in ours—but then to be exalted and worshipped down through history.

The psalm concludes with a benediction that is an acknowledgement of how God in his rescue has blessed us:

The Lord is God and He shines upon us.

You are my God, and I acclaim You,
my God, and I exalt You.
Acclaim the Lord, for He is good,
forever is His kindness.” (27-29)

It would be good to pray those words of gratitude every morning.

2 Samuel 3:1–34: The house of Saul and the house of David have divided Israel between them. But as our authors note, “David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.” (1)  Even though the war between David and Saul’s descendants continues, David has been busy and sired 6 sons while residing at Hebron.

Meanwhile, over at Saul’s place, Abner “goes in” (as the euphemism has it) to Saul’s concubine Rizpah. Ishbaal accuses Abner of rape. Abner apparently feels he has every right as a loyal general to do what he pleases and in a rather whiney and defensive reply to Ishbaal says, “Am I a dog’s head for Judah? Today I keep showing loyalty to the house of your father Saul, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David; and yet you charge me now with a crime concerning this woman.” (8) And he thereupon shifts his allegiance to David. [I’m not sure I’d want this guy on my side…]

Abner sends a message to David promising to “give you my support to bring all Israel over to you.” (12) David agrees on one condition, “you shall never appear in my presence unless you bring Saul’s daughter Michal when you come to see me.” (13) David can certainly hold a grudge and now that Saul’s house is weakened he demands that Saul’s daughter Michal be taken from her husband and given to him. The poor husband “went with her, weeping as he walked behind her all the way to Bahurim. ” (16) But Abner forces the husband to turn back and return home.

David’s demand is certainly a precursor of bigger things to come with Bathsheba. While David certainly follows God, he is also a highly flawed human being. And a stark reminder to us that even though we have been rescued by Jesus we will still succumb to our sinful desires, especially when like David we have power over others.

Abner eventually persuades all of Israel to throw its lot with David, telling the king, “Let me go and rally all Israel to my lord the king, in order that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” (21) Abner departs David just as Joab arrives back at Hebron “from a raid, bringing much spoil with them.” (22)

Upon finding out that David has made peace with Abner, Joab effectively tells David that he’s been duped by Saul’s general and that he’s really a spy: “You know that Abner son of Ner came to deceive you, and to learn your comings and goings and to learn all that you are doing.” (25)

Unknown to David, Joab calls Abner back to Hebron on a ruse and “Joab took him aside in the gateway to speak with him privately, and there he stabbed him in the stomach.” (27) This is Joab’s revenge for Abner’s murder of his brother, Asahel.

David is beyond mere anger and quickly disavows any responsibility for Joab’s act, cursing Joab and his descendants in one of the more colorful curses found in the bible: “May the guilt fall on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks food!” (29)

David orders mourning for the death of Abner, and offers a beautiful lament as “all the people wept over him again.” (34)

This chapter gives us the dark side of David who takes another man’s wife, and of Joab, who murders out of revenge. This is one of those places where we realize that the sins of men have not altered in more than 3000 years. We may think we’re more sophisticated and advanced than these ancient people, but the darkness that lurks in our hearts is exactly the same. As witness recent political events in Washington DC where mere accusations are taken as proven reality.

John 6:60–71: Following Jesus’ complex sermon about living bread and drink, his disciples rather understandably respond, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (60) Jesus cuts them no slack and rather sarcastically remarks, “Does this offend you?” (61) He goes on to summarize his sermon, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (63)

He then observes that “among you there are some who do not believe.” (64) Here it is once again in clear text: It’s all about belief, and in these words our gospel writer is addressing his community and us: If we do not believe that Jesus is who he says he is, there’s no point in becoming his disciple. John observes, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” (66)

Jesus turns to his inner circle and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” (67). As always, Peter speaks up first in the famous phrase [that we used to say every week in worship] telling Jesus [and John telling us]: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (68) IN short, there is no reasonable alternative to Jesus Christ. Once again for this gospel writer, who wants to ensure we get the point, it’s all about belief. Peter continues, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (69)

John also makes it clear that Jesus knew well in advance that he would be betrayed: “‘Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.” (70b, 71) This is a striking difference from the Synoptics where Jesus holds this information back until the Last Supper, the actual night of his betrayal. I think John wants us to understand that while some people profess belief, betrayal still lurks in their hearts. Like David, we may follow God, but we remain creatures of our sinful flesh. Belief is necessary but it is not sufficient, IMHO. Belief must be proved by our thoughts and especially our actions.

 

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