Psalm 119:1–8; 2 Samuel 3:35–5:16; John 7:1–13

Originally published 10/13/2016. Revised and updated 10/13/2018.

Psalm 119:1–8: And so we once again commence reading what Alter calls the “Long Acrostic” with each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew language begins eight lines of poetry. This means 176 lines of poetry and 22 days to get through this psalm.

Its overall theme is highly didactic: describing in each 8-line section the manifest joys of studying God’s words and following God’s teaching and precepts. There is little passion, minimal supplication, and not very much joy in this wisdom psalm.

Here we go…

The opening line—”Happy whose way is be happy blameless,/ who walk in the Lord’s precepts“—pretty much sets the tone and theme of the entire psalm.  The person who strictly follows God’s laws will do so because “with a whole heart they seek Him.” (2) As we know from reading the first five books of the bible—especially Leviticus—God “ordained Your decrees/ to be strictly observed.” (4) And here, our psalmist wishes that he can do so, too:
Would that my ways be firm
to observe Your statutes.
” (5)

The benefits of strictly following God’s law are personal:
Then I would not be shamed
when I look upon all Your commands
 (6)

…And a statement of our psalmist’s life goal that by knowing God and his laws are we are qualified to truly worship him. In short, knowledge trumps passion:
I shall acclaim You with an honest heart
as I learn Your righteous laws.
” (7)

This section ends on a hint of supplication:
Your statutes I shall observe.
Do not utterly forsake me.
 (8)

The theology is deuteronomic: strictly obey God’s law if you don’t want God to forsake you. Of course as we know too well, and our psalmist may have suspected himself, succeeding is impossible. Although the Pharisees of Jesus’ time certainly tried to. But Jesus’ death and resurrection have freed us from trying to get God to love us based on our own efforts and merit. And as we shall see, there is plenty of effort on display in this psalm. Grace does not surface anywhere.

2 Samuel 3:35–5:16: David continues to mourn the death of Abner. Our authors observe, “All the people took notice of it, and it pleased them; just as everything the king did pleased all the people.” (3:36). David is certainly well positioned and popular. The “people and all Israel understood that day that the king had no part in the killing of Abner,” (37) But depsite his popularity, David still feels threatened by Joab’s brother, fearful he will take revenge.

Meanwhile back at the court of Saul’s son, Ishbaal, when the erstwhile king “heard that Abner had died at Hebron, his courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed.” (4:1) Which he had good reason to be since Rechab and Baanah “came inside the house as though to take wheat, and they struck [Ishbaal] in the stomach,” (4:6) killing him. They gleefully bring the head of Ishbaal back to David, thinking “he was bringing good news,” (4:10) to David.

However, David pointed out that he had already killed the messenger who brought news of Saul and Jonathan’s death and tells the assassins, “how much more then, when wicked men have killed a righteous man on his bed in his own house!” (4:11) And promptly has them executed. In a final grisly twist, their hands and feet are cut off and the bodies hung beside the pool at Hebron. Above all, David respects the office of king, and when that office is violated, there can be no mercy.

On that happy note, “all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh,'” (5:1) asking him to become their king. He agrees, and “King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” (5:3) Once again, God is at the center of David’s actions.

Seven years into his forty year reign, “the king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land.” (5:6) They fool themselves, taunting him, “David cannot come in here.” (5:6b). Nevertheless, David conquers the “stronghold of Zion.”

We need to be careful about the next verse: “David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” (5:8) I don’t think David actually hates blind and lame people. (After all, he takes Jonathan’s son, who is lame, into his own household.) Rather, I believe David is taunting the Jebusites back in response to their taunt, sarcastically calling the army of the Jebusites, “blind and lame.”

In any event, David retakes Jerusalem and moves his court there, where it remained for centuries until the Babylonians conquered Israel. At Jerusalem, “King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar trees, and carpenters and masons who built David a house.” (5:11)

At this point, the kingdoms of Judah and Israel are united and finally, “David then perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.” (5:12) The authors go on to note David’s virility: “David took more concubines and wives; and more sons and daughters were born to David.” (5:13) David was doing what a powerful king in those days was obligated to do: establish a dynasty. In the list of 11 unfamiliar names of David’s children, we see one that stands out: Solomon.

John 7:1–13: In order to avoid assassination, Jesus retreats to Galilee. Here we learn that Jesus has younger brothers, who suggest he head down to Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths. They seem to be taunting him to show his powers in public, “for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (4) To make sure we get the point, John notes parenthetically, “not even his brothers believed in him.” (5)

Jesus lectures them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here,” (6) giving us one more indication of Jesus’ sense of mission, as he goes on to say that “the world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.” (7) Jesus is fully aware that he is a prophet is without honor in his own community.

Jesus’ brothers head on down to the Festival and Jesus remains behind in Galilee. But not for long. Jesus “also went, not publicly but as it were in secret.” (10) Word about Jesus had obviously spread. He was a polarizing figure, and “there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.”” (12)

“The Jews,” which I take to be John’s title for the Jewish officials, are looking for him, but “no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.” (13)

Far more than the Synoptics, John constantly points out just how controversial Jesus was, suggesting that Jesus was equally controversial among the gospel writer’s own community. No question that then, as now, Jesus is a polarizing figure. This is consistent with John’s binary outlook: either you believe or, like Jesus’ own brothers, you don’t. Either you say, “he’s a good man,” or you say “he is deceiving the crowd. When it comes to Jesus, there can be no middle ground.

 

 

 

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