Psalm 119:89–96; 2 Samuel 18:1–30; John 10:1–10

Originally published 10/26/2016. Revised and updated 10/26/2018.

Psalm 119:89–96: One of the threads running through this lengthy psalm is God as creator. Our psalmist views God’s word as one of the key elements of creation and eternally intertwined in physical nature:
Forever, O Lord,
Your word stands high in the heavens.
For all generations Your faithfulness.
You made the earth firm and it stood.” (89, 90)

God’s laws came into being at the moment of creation and are inextinguishable:
By Your laws they stand this day,
for all are Your servants. (91)

For our psalmist, it is understanding and abiding in God’s law that is an integral part of creation—and which affords rescue:
Had not Your teaching been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction. (92)

Once again, there is supplication. The poet believes he deserves God’s rescue because he has been faithful to God’s law:
I am Yours, O rescue me,
for Your decrees I have sought. (94)

God’s law is not just a part of creation, it transcends it:
For each finite thing I saw an end—
but Your command is exceedingly broad. (96)

God’s laws are intrinsic to creation and expressed in the wonders of particle physics and genetic biology. The more science seeks to understand creation, the more mysteriously wonderful it becomes. Our psalmist is exactly right. Were it not for God’s law expressed through the laws of nature creation could not exist. We are not here by coincidence.

2 Samuel 18:1–30: As Hushai had previously pointed out to Absalom, David is a savvy warrior. He divides his army into thirds and announces he will go into battle with his men. His generals object, stating that David is “worth ten thousand of us.” (3). They ask him to remain at the city, which he agrees to do as “the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands.” (4) However, David instructs his general to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (5) Our authors note that “all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.” (5)

Unsurprisingly, David’s army is victorious and “the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.” (7) As for Absalom, he is riding a donkey which passes under a too-low tree. His neck is caught in the branches as the donkey rides on. The man who saw this informs Joab, who is angry the soldier did not finish off Absalom right there and then. The soldier responds that he had heard David’s command to go gently on his son. Joab will have none of this mercy stuff and tells the man, “I will not waste time like this with you.” (14) as he thrusts three spears into Absalom’s heart.

The battle is over and the troops bury Absalom under “a very great heap of stones.” (17) Zadok’s son Ahimaaz asks Joab if he can deliver the news of Absalom’s death to David. Joab does not allow this and sends a resident alien instead. However, Ahimaaz persists in his desire to bring the news to David and proceeds to run behind the appointed messenger.

David sees Ahimaaz approach and believes that since “He is a good man, and comes with good tidings.” (27) Ahimaaz shouts, “All is well,” and when David asks about Absalom, Ahimaaz replies only that “I saw a great tumult, but I do not know what it was.” (29) Since messengers carrying bad news often met a grim end Ahimaaz is understandably afraid to tell David the truth.

Our authors have expressed an enormous range of human emotion in this brilliantly written story, which is why I believe this is authentic history, albeit written by the victors. We see David’s love for his son even though he has usurped the throne, as well as his optimism when Ahimaaz approaches. We understand Joab’s anger when he kills Absalom for what he believes is unforgivable treason. We witness Ahimaaz’s enthusiasm to bring the news and then his hesitation as he is unable to bring the bad news to David. Human passion and behavior have remained unchanged over the three millennia since these events took place.

John 10:1–10: Our gospel writer moves from the metaphor of the blind and sight to the metaphor of those under the protection of Jesus as our good shepherd. In yet another echo of the underlying binary theme of this gospel—one believes or doesn’t believe—Jesus points out that there is one and only one way to the protection of the sheepfold: through the gate. And “the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (2)

Jesus goes on to describe how the sheep follow the shepherd “because they know his voice.” (4) Moreover, the sheep run from a stranger  “because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (5) Needless to say, this extended metaphor is fairly opaque and his listeners (presumably his disciples) “did not understand what he was saying to them.” (6) [Nor would we at this point.]

So Jesus patiently explains the metaphor: “I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.” (7, 8) This is a shocking statement because John’s Jesus is effectively saying that all of Jewish law and tradition, not to mention the religious leaders are “thieves and bandits.” This assertion certainly seems to fly in the face of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)

As usual, this polarizing statement supports of John’s overarching theme: One believes in Jesus and who he says he is or one does not. Jesus’ next sentence makes this dichotomy abundantly clear: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (9) But all others who purport to speak for God are relegated to the category of usurpers: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  (10a) This was certainly a shot across the bow of the competitors preaching a different gospel in the author’s own community.

If we ever needed a clear statement of the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, we find it here in this brief but luminous statement: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10b) Would that we could strip away all our theological baggage and simply bask in the reality of this transcendent promise.

 

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