Psalm 119:169–176; 1 Kings 2:39–3:28; John 12:20–36

Originally published 11/7/2016. Revised and updated 11/7/2018.

Psalm 119:169–176: We arrive [at long last] at the final stanza of this overlong, often overwrought, psalm. Our psalmist, having run out of fresh ideas, uses these last eight verses as a benediction to wrap up the overarching theme of never failing to ask for a deeper understanding of God’s word:
Let my song of prayer come before You, Lord.
As befits Your word, give me insight.
 (169)

To his credit, here at the conclusion he ties his several themes together. He asks one more time for rescue, as always tying his fate to his insights into God’s word:
Let my supplication come before You, Lord.
As befits Your utterance, save me.
 (170)

The human response to rescue and to the understanding that God has provided is what it should always be: worship:
Let my lips utter praise,
for You taught me Your statutes.
 (171)

Our psalmist’s salvation is inextricably woven into the necessity of understanding and then following God’s word as communicated through the law:
May Your hand become my help,
for Your decrees I have chosen
. (173)

And to make sure we do not fail to grasp his point, he reiterates this idea of rescue occurring through understanding:
I desired Your rescue, I Lord,
and Your teaching is my delight.
” (174)

For him, worship and obedience are the apotheosis of a well-lived, God-filled life:
Let my being live on and praise You,
and may Your laws help me.
 (175)

Which, when we reflect on it, is exactly how we should also live—with one crucial addition: the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Our psalmist had only the Torah, and we cannot blame him for his passionate clinging to the Law as the path to righteousness. Indeed, as he concludes with a familiar metaphor, he speaks for all of us, especially  when we consider that as the gospel of John has it, Jesus himself is the Word:
I have wandered like a lost sheep.
Seek Your servant, for Your commands I did not forget.
 (176)

1 Kings 2:39–3:28: Just to make sure everyone got the message that Solomon was now once and for all the king, he carries out the pending sentence of death on Shimei, who has foolishly gone down to Gath to retrieve a couple runaway slaves. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he is hauled before the king, who reminds Shimei, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord, and solemnly adjure you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘The sentence is fair; I accept.’” (2:42) Shimei pays with his life for his treachery against David and our authors solemnly [couldn’t resist!] intone, “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.” (2:46)

Like his father, “ Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.” (3:3) God appears to Solomon in a dream and “God said, “Ask what I should give you.” (3:5) Solomon wisely requests, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (3:9) God is manifestly pleased with Solomon’s response and replies, “Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.” (3:12) As a bonus, God also promises, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.” (3:13) An interesting point here is that unlike David, who has a direct connection to God, our authors point out that God speaks to Solomon via dreams. David appears to be the last OT figure to whom God speaks directly.

As the famous example of Solomon’s wisdom, the two prostitutes [they certainly didn’t include that particular detail in Sunday school!] come to Solomon with the famous conundrum of the dead baby and the living baby. Solomon brings out his sword and the mother of the living baby begs Solomon to spare its life while the mother of the dead baby is perfectly happy to see Solomon cut the child in half. Solomon famously discerns who the real mother is, saying, “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” (3:27) Our authors point out that “All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.” (3:28) And Solomon goes down in history as the synonym for wisdom.

As we know, one of the great themes of the OT is God’s desire for righteousness and justice. Solomon—especially this famous story—is the exemplar of what it means for leaders to execute justice. Would that this wisdom were on greater display in the words and actions of our own leaders.

John 12:20–36: Several Greeks [aka Gentiles] wish to speak with Jesus and approach Philip, who with Andrew goes to Jesus. John’s Jesus replies with what must have sounded like a philosophical non-sequitur to the Greeks in metaphorical language: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (24) His explanation does not shed much more light on the subject as he explains enigmatically, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (25) He concludes with a statement that those who follow him will be honored by God.

Unfortunately, John does not tell us how the Greeks responded. Did they think Jesus was spouting nonsense or did they, being of a philosophical bent, grasp his true meaning? Of course that’s exactly the decision that any erstwhile follower of Jesus must make: either Jesus is a madman or he is exactly who he says he is.

Jesus goes on to ruminate in front of the crowd on his impending death, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (27) John, alone among the gospel writers, asserts that God responds audibly: “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (28) As in the baptismal scene, part of the crowd hears only something that sounds like thunder while others claim it was an angel’s voice. Jesus asserts that the voice is intended for them: “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” (30)

He then makes the statement that at its literal level is awfully close to political treason: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (31, 32) John helpfully tells us that “lifted up” indicates “the kind of death he was to die,” i.e., crucifixion. Unsurprisingly, the crowd is puzzled as it asks, “How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” (34)

But Jesus’ response to the crowd is even more enigmatic, but it is highly meaningful to the gospel writer’s audience as John returns to the theme he laid out in the first chapter: “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” (36a) Of course we know that Jesus is referring to himself, but I’m pretty sure that all the crowd heard were words bordering on treason. Jesus knows this and John tells us that “he departed and hid from them.” (36b)

I think we need to read this section as a Socratic discourse basically constructed by the gospel writer and not as narrative history. This section is  certainly Jesus at his most theologically and philosophically profound level.

 

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