Psalm 119:113–120; 2 Samuel 21; John 10:34–42

Originally published 10/29/2016. Revised and updated 10/30/2018.

Psalm 119:113–120: By this point in this psalm there is little new left to say—either for the psalmist or for me.

Once again, our psalmist sees himself beset on all sides and implores,
Turn away from me, evildoers,
that I may keep the commands of my God.” (115)

Quite frankly, I believe we can keep God’s commands even as evil surrounds us.

I’m suspicious of the psalmists’ motivations here. Is he really asking to be rescued just so he can keep God’s commands? I sense a certain intellectualism here, especially when we compare these verses to the desperate and to me, far more authentic supplications we encounter elsewhere in the Psalms, as e.g. Psalm 22. One suspects that hanging on the cross, Jesus would not have uttered,
Uphold me that I may be rescued
to regard Your statutes at all times.
 (117)

Moreover, the psalmist pretends to have deep insight into God’s motivation and action in the lives of others, especially those whom the psalmist regards as wrongdoers:
You spurned all who stray from Your statutes,
for their deception is but a lie
. (118)

Really? How do you know what God has done to others? [Not to mention the annoying tautology, “their deception is but a lie.”]

But we have to admit that he’s still an optimist:
Like dross You destroy all the earth’s wicked;
therefore I love Your precepts.
 (119)

Last time I looked, and as many other psalms observe, it’s the wicked who always seem to be prospering. But we cannot argue with the last line of the stanza where the psalmist recalls that God is God:
My flesh shudders from the fear of You,
and of Your laws I am in awe.
 (120)

WHich is certainly a pretty good operational definition of what it means to “fear the Lord.” God certainly deserves far greater fear and reverence than we are wont to show in our modern worship where God comes off too often as an avuncular old man rather than Lord of the universe.

2 Samuel 21: In the midst of a famine David inquires of God about its cause. God replies, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (1) Our authors note that the Gibeonites, while not of Israel or Judah were under Israel’s protection—a pact Saul broke in “his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.” (2)

David asks the Gibeonites what they desire as recompense. Their answer is stark: they wish to impale the sons of Saul. David complies, although he understandably spares lame Mephibosheth. This incident is a reminder of the blood vengeance that characterized ancient civilization. Of course we cannot be smug about our “superior morals” as we watch the destruction of Aleppo by Russia and Syria and the manifest cruelty on display elsewhere in the Mideast. Or the shooting of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The veneer of modern civilization is awfully thin.

Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, are given a proper burial and “After that, God heeded supplications for the land.” (14) Which doesn’t sound all that different from the kinds of propitiation of the small-g gods that surrounding tribes engaged in.

The Philistines again “went to war again with Israel.” (15) Aging David “grew weary” in battle. A descendant of Goliath and a giant himself swears vengeance on David, but “Abishai son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and attacked the Philistine and killed him.” (17a) It’s clear that David’s days as active warrior are at an end and “David’s men swore to him, “You shall not go out with us to battle any longer, so that you do not quench the lamp of Israel.” (17b) So, David retires from the battlefield.

The battles with the Philistines continue who produce more giants “descended from the giants in Gath” (22) , including one with 12 fingers and 12 toes(!). They taunt Israel but all are killed by Israel’s soldiers.

Our takeaway from this chapter is one of unrelenting battles as Israel, under David’s leadership both on and off the battlefield, consolidates its territory and its power. And God continues to be actively involved as David never fails to go to God before he acts.

John 10:34–42: Our gospel writer cannot resist having Jesus explain his actions using scripture. Here, Jesus refutes the assertion that he is a blasphemer by pointing out that the leaders cannot recognize “one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (36).

Once again,  the choice for all who hear (or read about) Jesus is binary: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.”  (37) Or, “if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (38) Unsurprisingly, this assertion of God being within Jesus only enrages the leaders further and they try to arrest Jesus, “but he escaped from their hands.” (39)

Jesus flees to the Jordan and (surprise, surprise), “many believed in him there.” (42) As always, it’s all about belief. However, this belief of the hoi polloi seems  rooted more in Jesus’ miracles than in his words that he is God’s son: “Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” (41)

In his effort to create a lengthy socratic dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders, our gospel writer has created an image of a very didactic Jesus—not unlike the psalmist above. But for me, while this theological side of Jesus is certainly true, this is not the compelling and charismatic Jesus whom we encounter in the synoptics.

 

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