Psalm 119:129–136; 2 Samuel 22:26–23:17; John 11:17–30

Psalm reflections originally published 11/3/2016. Revised and updated 11/1/2018.

Psalm 119:129-136: As the psalmist’s encomium regarding God’s word stretches to unprecedented lengths, he makes what at first looks like a provocative assertion:
The portal of Your words sends forth light,
makes the simple understand. (130)

Really? Sometimes it seems that God’s word is awfully obscure. And even when the sophisticated understand, they tend to fight among themselves regarding the interpretation of God’s word. Never mind the “simple.}

So what is our psalmist saying here? That we just need to open the Bible and read or pray and listen for God’s response and then we’ll just understand everything in the Bible? Hardly. Rather, I think he’s being a bit more subtle in the metaphor here. We need to think of God’s word as being behind a closed door that is ours to open. We are holding the doorknob in our hand. And just as an interior light spreads its light into the outside darkness when the door is opened, we must open the door of our heart to feel the light of God’s word. Only after opening that door will God’s light pour over us.

Will we–simple or sophisticated–then understand everything God has to say? Well, we may not get the theological subtleties of God’s word in the normal sense of “understanding,” but even the simplest among us will come to understand via God’s word that God is present with us and that God holds us in His light. Without his word we remain in the spiritual dark. Certainly we are in the dark with regard to knowledge and understanding. But we also know with assurance that it is through God’s word that He speaks to us. The Word reassures us that He is present in our lives–and above all that He loves us. I think this reality is summed up very nicely in the old song, “Jesus loves me; this I know for the Bible tells me so.”

2 Samuel 22:26–23:17: David’s lengthy poem of praise continues. Like our psalmist above, God makes a distinction between God-followers and those who seek to oppress the downtrodden:
…with the pure you show yourself pure,
    and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
You deliver a humble people,

    but your eyes are upon the haughty to bring them down. (27, 28)

David knows that all that he is and all he has done has come from God:
For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?
The God who has girded me with strength
    has opened wide my path.
He made my feet like the feet of deer,
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your help has made me great. (32-36)

These verses describe what set David apart from Saul and what sets God-followers apart from those who deny God’s existence: the acknowledgement that all that we are and all that we are able to  do comes from God.

Chapter 23 brings us David’s last words, including a brilliant summary of how David ruled:
The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
    his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
    ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
    like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
    gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. (23:2-4)

One suspects that the author of this poem, probably in Babylonian captivity, felt intense irony as he wrote. For the Jewish captivity had arisen from the failure of the subsequent kings of Israel and Judah to follow David’s words. Even though David sinned mightily, he always turned back to God for guidance. Egomania by leaders who think they know it all comes inevitably to a bad end. I wonder where the egomania of our present leaders will bring us?

The chapter concludes with a catalog of “David’s mighty men,” giving credit to David’s faithful companions such as Eleazar, who “stood his ground.” (23:10) and Shammah, “who took his stand in the middle of the plat [of land]. (23:11). The writer celebrates the thirty chiefs, who “went down to join David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim.” (23:13). And finally, the three brave warriors who risked their lives and brought water to David.

The lesson here is clear: David did not accomplish his great works on his own. He led loyal and courageous men. No leader can do great things by himself. This catalog of these men who stood beside David is a wonderful reminder of David’s unparalleled leadership—leadership that inspired intense loyalty because David listened to—and followed—God to his dying day.

John 11:17–30: Martha  famously excoriates Jesus for his too late arrival to heal a dying Lazarus: ““Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (21) But less well known her words that follow: “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (22) Even in her frustration that Jesus did not come in time to save her brother, her faith remains intact.

Jesus responds to Martha’s assertion with the ambiguous statement, “Your brother will rise again.” (23) Martha is not expecting Lazarus’s resuscitation, so the naturally responds, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (24) But then Jesus responds with his famous statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (26, 26a) 

Right up there with John 3:16, I take this statement to be at the core of this gospel’s theology. But unlike John 3:16 the verse operates at two levels. The first and most obvious is the theological: This is John’s clear statement about who Jesus is and the words, “life,” “die,” and “live” are freighted with the definitive meaning of the theology of eternal life.

Martha is all of us and her reply must be our reply: “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (27) As always in this gospel, it comes back to belief. Either we believe Jesus is who he says he is—as Martha does—or we reject him. There can be no middle ground.

The second level of course is the narrative itself: Jesus is predicting his own death and resurrection and hinting at the resuscitation of Lazarus.

I think it’s important that John has written this narrative as between Martha and Jesus. Martha is all of us: even though she loves Jesus, she is busy with her own affairs and sees life in practical, real-word terms. If Mary is the heart, Martha is the mind. And both are equally crucial in believing Jesus is who he says he is. Belief is about much more than just feeling and emotion.

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