Psalm 119:17–24; 2 Samuel 7; John 7:25–44

Originally published 10/15/2016. Revised and updated 10/16/2018.

Psalm 119:17–24: Our enthusiastic psalmist uses sight as a metaphor for knowledge and understanding of God’s word:
…let me observe Your word.
Unveil my eyes that I may look
upon the wonders of Your teaching.
 (17b, 18)

He knows that life is temporary—”A sojourner am I in the land” (19a)—and in the brevity of the time allotted to him, he pleads, “So not hide from me Your commands.” (19b).  I take this business of asking God not to hide his word as indicative of what we have all experienced: God, being God, is just plain inscrutable. Just like the psalmist, we’d really like God to be somewhat more revealing and forthcoming than he is. I certainly feel that even in this journey through the bible, there are things that I will never understand—particularly when it comes to God’s apparent approval of cruelty and death.

Our psalmist engages in a bit of hyperbole when he says, as if he were a jilted lover,
I pine away desiring
Your laws in every hour.
 (20)  Really?

Then he tries a different approach to God, observing:
You blast the cursed arrogant
who stray from Your commands.

But our poet, longing to know God’s word and knows that keeping God’s law is the sure path to God’s approval as well as the respect of his community:
Take away from me scorn and disgrace
for Your precepts I have kept.

At this point, the poet takes on a kingly role, perhaps imagining himself as David, asserting that even as the target of conspiracy, he has remained faithful:
Even when princes sat to scheme against me,
Your servant dwelled on Your statutes.

He concludes this stanza with a rhetorical flourish:
Yes, Your precepts are my delight,
my constant counselors.

Once again, we can see that it is verses like these that gave the Pharisees their mojo.

2 Samuel 7: Now that Israel is at peace, David really, really wants to build a temple, remarking to his prophet Nathan that “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” (2) Nathan gives David his blessing to go ahead with the temple project: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” (3)

But God has other plans.

God speaks to Nathan, telling him that “Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, …saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (7) God continues, retracing israel’s history, and instructs Nathan to tell David, that after the king dies, God will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, …and he shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (12). Moreover, God promises that “I will not take my steadfast love from him [David], as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.” (15)

What’s fascinating here is that God admits that he is capable of taking away his “steadfast love.” Clearly, this is an Old Covenant prerogative. Under the terms of the New Covenant we know that God is indeed love, expressed through our relationship with Jesus Christ. And we are assured that God’s love endures forever.

Nathan tells David what God has told him. David’s response is not to whine that he can’t carry out his great plan. Rather, he prays these compelling lines, first acknowledging God’s priority in his life: “Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.” (22) David understands that God is not interested in building a physical house, but that God has “made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’” (27), i.e., the House of David, his dynasty, out of which comes Jesus himself.

David’s prayer is a brilliant lesson for us to accept that God’s plans are not our plans and that rather than forging ahead with our plans, we are far better off to step back and listen to what God has in mind for us. By not forcing his will over God’s David’s ‘house’ brings forth two men who are far, far greater than David’s plan to build God a house made of cedar. Solomon builds the temple and Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the city of David. This is how God keeps his promise to “establish the throne of his [David’s] kingdom forever.”

John 7:25–44: In John’s gospel account, attempts to quash Jesus begin early in his ministry. People wonder, “here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?” (26) Some folks decide he can’t really be the Messiah because “we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” (27)

Jesus begs to differ, and speaks more directly of his incarnation that we have seen up to this point: “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him.” (28) And then even more radically, Jesus asserts, “I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” (29)  And as John observes, “many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (31)

Of course what Jesus has said is outright blasphemy under Jewish law, and the authorities try to arrest him. Although John does not say so, they cannot do so, probably because to do so would have caused a riot. Jesus rather surprisingly asserts that “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.” (33) People will search for Jesus but not find him. His listeners rather understandably think he’s about to abandon Jerusalem and Israel altogether and “go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks.” (35) Of course the Greeks do indeed find out about who Jesus is, but not the way these folks surmise.

Jesus, having already called himself the bread of life, goes on to  say, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” (37, 38) [There’s that belief theme again.] Jesus continues, telling the crowd, “‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (38b) John helpfully tells us “he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” (39. But not yet, “because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (39b)

At this point, John uses his narrative of the divided crowd to tell us that people had to believe that Jesus was either the Messiah or that he was a blasphemer. What’s really fascinating here is that some people observe that the Messiah is supposed to be “descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived.” (42) Having not included the Bethlehem nativity story in his gospel, John’s Jesus as davidic Messiah is more ambiguous. I think he does an effective job of underscoring the division between belief or disbelief within the crowd. Once again, the focus is on that binary choice about deciding who Jesus is or isn’t.

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