Psalm 119:105–112; 2 Samuel 19:31–20:26; John 10:22–33

Originally published 10/28/2016. Revised and updated 10/29/2018.

Psalm 119:105–112: This stanza includes the most well known metaphor in this psalm—and one I memorized in 5th grade Sunday School:
A lamp to my feet is Your word
and a light to my path. 
(105)

Understanding that scripture is a guide to live by is crucial not only to the Jewish life, as was our psalmist’s intent here, but to the Christian life as well. Too often, the temptation is to make the bible the end of the Christian life rather than the means. For Christians, Jesus is the end, not the bible. Many well-meaning evangelicals would rather stay inside the safe boundaries of their church studying the bible rather than getting out into the world and living as Jesus would have us live; caring for the widows and bringing justice to the poor.

This metaphor presumes we are walking a winding narrow, often rocky, path through life. More than ever, we need a light to see through the fog and darkness of the culture we live in. Scripture is our guide through life.

The psalmist goes on to observe that life is risky—:something too many people would rather ignore:
My life is at risk at all times,
yet Your teaching I do not forget
. (109)

Our psalmist is not living in cloistered safety, but as we have learned again and again in this lengthy psalm, he is out in the world living among his enemies:
The wicked set a trap for me,
Yet from Your decrees I did not stray. (110a)

And perhaps just as important is that this discipline need not be onerous. Rather, it is a source of well-being:
I inherit Your precepts forever,
for they are my heart’s joy. (111)

Like the psalmist, we can turn to Scripture and review how Jesus is our ever trustworthy Rock—even as the world around us seems to be imploding.

2 Samuel 19:31–20:26: Before David leaves the trans-Jordan to return to Jerusalem, he wishes to have Barzillai the Gileadite,return to Jerusalem with him. This is the man who, “had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man” (19:32)

But Barzilla declines the offer. He is 80 years old and speaks profound words for what it is like to grow old: “Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?” (35) As I approach my 72nd birthday, these words have great resonance for me.

Barzilla’s only request is  to “let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.” (37) David agrees.

We see hints of the enormous national split to come in the future in the confrontation between the people of Israel and those of Judah. Israel is upset that Judah has “stolen away, and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him.” (41) The people of Judah respond that “the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter?” (42) Israel counters that “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us?” (43) This is the same tension between Israel and Judah that eventually splits the nation into two kingdoms. The tension has been present from the beginning. The nation will become increasingly polarized, just as America has become polarized. Will we meet the same fate?

King David is plagued by dissention in the ranks. Having not learned their lesson in the Absalom affair, “the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri, but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.” (20:2) Of course we need to remember that it is the priests and scribes of Judah who are writing this history, so verses such as these ar not unexpected.

Back in Jerusalem, David metes out punishment to the “ten concubines whom he had left to look after the house” (20:3),. He provides for them but locks them away “until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.” (20:3) presumably because having laid with Absalom they are now spoiled goods. One wonders if the concubines could have resisted Absalom, so to our modern sensibilities this seems to be an unfair punishment.

More intrigue follows. David gives orders to capture and kill Sheba. David’s general Amasa apparently abandons David by failing to return after three days with the army. Joab comes across Amasa in the field and believing him to be a traitor, embraces Amasa, seemingly to kiss him in greeting but instead stabs him in the gut.

Joab’s army approaches the town where Sheba is hiding. A woman, realizing that Joab’s army will destroy the city in the battle to capture Sheba: “I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel; you seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel; why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” (20:19)

She tells Joab that she will hand over the head of Sheba in order to avoid the destruction of the city, which she does, thereby saving her city. As the authors point out, she is a wise woman. But also as usual, the authors do not name her. What’s fascinating here is that it is a woman who brings peace through shrewd negotiation. Once again, a woman is a more effective peacemaker than the hot-headed men who surround her.

John 10:22–33: Far more than in the synoptic gospels, John describes the deep tensions that Jesus has created in Jerusalem because of his ambiguous assertions that he is the Messiah that has come directly from God. The “Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (24) But as usual, Jesus does not come right out and assert his messiahship as I’m sure many others had before him. Instead, he tells the Jews, “I have told you, and you do not believe.” (25a) Jesus asserts that the miracles he’s worked should serve as sufficient proof: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (25b) Once again, the overarching theme is that belief is essential. Jesus knows that even if he told them outright they would still doubt. But Jesus does not make this belief come easily.

Knowing that what he’s about to say will anger them further, Jesus tells them “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (26) Here is John’s binary world at its starkest. You’re either inside the sheepfold because you believe in Jesus or you’re not because you don’t believe: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (27)

Jesus again emphasizes his relationship with God the Father: “The Father and I are one.” (30) This angers the crowd even further and they pick up stones to kill Jesus. He calmly replies, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” (32) Someone in the crowd just as calmly replies, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” (33)

So there it is: Jesus is unacceptable to conventional religion. His claims are just too outrageous. Again and again, John is reminding us that we cannot remain on the fence. Either one believes in Jesus or one does not. We pick up the stones or we do not. We cannot rationalize our way out of that decision. Either go through the gate of Jesus into the sheepfold or remain outside. Those who say Jesus is simply a “good teacher” but reject his assertions of messiahship clearly remain outside the fold.

 

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