Psalm 119:41-48; 2 Samuel 12; John 8:12-30

Originally published 10/20/2014. Revised and updated 10/19/2018.

Psalm 119:41-48: This section deals with speaking God’s word in a hostile environment. Our psalmist is asking for God’s  “rescue as befits Your utterance,” in order
that I may give answer to those who taunt me,
for I have trusted in Your word. (42)

These verses seem apt in today’s environment where Christians are increasingly viewed by the “tolerant” world as misguided at best and intolerant bigots at worst.

The recent case of two ministers in Idaho being required to perform same-sex marriages at their wedding chapel business or face onerous fines is a case in point. Or the baker in Colorad who was hauled up before the courts because he would not bake a cake for a gay wedding. Regardless of whether one agrees with the idea of a wedding “business,” their interpretation of what the Bible has to say about marriage, or whether this is an abrogation of their first amendment rights, they are certainly being forced to speak—and attempt to stand by— God’s word in an antagonistic environment.

The prayers of these folks must certainly include this prayer:
And let me speak of Your precepts
before kings without being shamed. (46).

Can they withstand the pressure of a supposedly tolerant government or society? Will they continue to be able to speak God’s word without being shamed?

Of course the more relevant question here is, could I speak of God’s precepts before kings who have hauled me up on charges of being “intolerant?”

2 Samuel 12: After committing adultery, and the enormous sin of sending Uriah to his death in battle, David has taken Uriah’s wife Bathsheba for his own, who has borne a son. Chapter 11 ends with the ominous statement, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” Nathan comes to the king, and telling David what I take to be a parable of a sheep stolen from a poor man by a rich man, David reacts, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” (5)

David doesn’t get the parable and Nathan responds, “You are the man!” A few verses down, Nathan twists the knife: “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (9) followed by the ominous promise, “Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.” (11) The child David has sired by Bathsheba dies. 

As the subsequent history of the kings of Israel proves, Nathan’s prophecy is an effective means for the authors of 2 Samuel to demonstrate the roots of the centuries of trouble that eventually led to the decimation of the northern kingdom and the exile of the southern.

But can we lay the history of Israel’s decline solely at David’s feet? Bathsheba also becomes Solomon’s mother, so it seems that a blessing also arises from David’s sin. That’s why we need to be careful about asserting that when something bad happens, that it was something God has ordained because of our sin. Where great sin has occurred, there are woeful consequences, but God is still merciful.

John 8:12-30: Unlike the Synoptics, John explores the relationship between Jesus and the Father (never “God” in this gospel) in great depth. What Jesus says is understandable from our being this side of the Upper Room Discourse and the Cross. But it had to be completely befuddling to the Pharisees. Jesus talking about two people being required to testify and then saying, “I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” (18) is puzzling. But then he says, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (19) This accusation that the Pharisees did not really know God must have been perfectly clear to them and only kindled their anger further.

We understand that John is describing qualities of the Trinity, and he introduces the Holy Spirit more formally in the Upper Room Discourse.  But at this point, I have to believe the Pharisees did not have Jesus arrested because they really had no basis on which to pin a clear charge of blasphemy. They must have stood there with confused looks on their faces: What Jesus was saying was profound but impenetrable to even the brightest minds among them. John’s comment seems almost superfluous when he says, “They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.” (27)

The same goes for John’s foretaste of Jesus’ death when Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.” (29) The significance of this prediction of being “lifted up” on the cross is understood only after the fact. Yet, Jesus’ personality was so compelling that even if the precise meaning of his words were not clear, John tells us, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” (30).

Even though we now understand retrospectively what Jesus was talking about, I think John is also telling us that we can believe in Jesus even without fully understanding him. Given that John was writing around the time the Gnostics began claiming that the way to spiritual enlightenment was by understanding “secret knowledge,” John is telling us that the way to Jesus is not through fully understanding “high theology” but simply believing that what Jesus is say, and who he is is Truth enough. Once again it’s all about belief.

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