Psalm 120; 1 Kings 4:1–28; John 12:37–50

Originally published 11/8/2016. Revised and updated 11/8/2018.

Psalm 120: The opening line of this psalm suggests thanksgiving for God’s rescue:
To the Lord when I was in straits
I called out and He answered me. (1)

But our psalmist remains in trouble and thanksgiving becomes supplication. The poet has apparently been slandered:
Lord, save my life from lying lips,
from a tongue of deceit.
 (2)

He asks his accuser rhetorically,
What can it give you, what can it add,
a tongue of deceit?
 (3)

We know the answer: slander adds nothing to a person’s character; it only subtracts. We have certainly seen a lot of slander in the political world earlier this fall in confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. Unfounded accusations  only negated any admiration we may have had for his accuser.

Slander hurts and it lingers. The poet’s metaphor is exactly right here: it is a piercing arrow with a burning tip:
A warrior’s honed arrows
with broom-wood coals. (4)

Our psalmist is apparently well-traveled [or he is speaking metaphorically to make it clear that slander lingers everywhere he goes]:
Woe to me for I have sojourned in Meshech
dwelt among the tents of Kedar.
 (5)

But no matter how far he goes the injuries of slander will not heal—just as we see today as a man’s reputation is shredded even though he has been vindicated:
Long has my whole being dwelt
among those who hate peace
. (6)

He sees himself as a minority among those who would rather fight:
I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for war
.” (7)

Again, an apt reflection of the current polarized speech that reverberates across our country beginning at the very top in the White House.

1 Kings 4:1–28: Solomon rules over a unified Israel, establishes the court bureaucracy, and appoints priests, secretaries, a recorder, a person in charge of the palace itself and, interestingly, a manger over the forced labor obviously required to make things run. Among others, our authors mention “Zabud son of Nathan was priest and king’s friend.” (5)

In addition, the king appoints “twelve officials over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household; each one had to make provision for one month in the year.” (7) Everything is sounding far more organized than the intrigue and plots presided over by David. One assumes that this one month a year service also acted as a check and balance, minimizing court intrigue and plotting since not much conspiracy can be accomplished in a month.

It’s a magnificent kingdom over which Solomon rules. We hear an echo of God’s original promise to Abraham: “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they ate and drank and were happy.” (20) Moreover, Solomon ruled over “all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” (21) There is no question that under Solomon Israel achieves its apogee of peace, prosperity and power: “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees.” 25)  But no one was more powerful than Solomon himself as our authors provide a detailed inventory of his military power: “Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.” (26)

Unfortunately, as is the case of all empires, including this American one, once they achieve great wealth and power, it can be only downhill from there. But for now, let’s revel in the moment of peace, wealth, and power that flourished under Solomon’s reign.

John 12:37–50: Our gospel writer editorializes: “Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.” (37) Once again, for John it’s all about the binary state: either one believes Jesus is who he says he is or one does not.  In any event, no one should be surprised at this unbelief since as John quotes the prophet Isaiah who knew all along that the true Messiah would be rejected:
He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.” (40)

And who is “He,” who has done this blinding and hardening we ask? One could assume it’s Satan. Or perhaps it’s simply human pride and a refusal to listen to Jesus’ new and unexpected message. Personally, I go with the latter since it’s far too easy to blame bad things on Satan when we humans are perfectly capable of blinding our own eyes and hardening our own hearts on our own.

However, lest we conclude that no one actually believed Jesus, John hurries to inform us, “many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” (42) And then the withering editorial condemnation that strikes at the heart of all of us even today: “for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.” (43) As always, our belief in Jesus’ truth is hindered by our own pride.

John summarizes these last several chapters with a brilliant précis of Jesus’ teachings. First and foremost, there is his overarching theme of believing that Jesus—the Word— has truly come from God himself: Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (44, 45) Then, there is the metaphor of this gospel: light and darkness that we have seen on display again and again, culminating in the healing of the blind man: “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” (46) As always, our choices are binary: belief/unbelief and light/darkness.

But there is kindness and grace in Jesus’ message as well—a message we too often forget: “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (47) And central to the theological plank of many evangelical churches is Jesus’ clear statement that we must make a decision: belief or unbelief. But also a warning of the consequences of rejecting who Jesus says he is: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge.” (48)

Finally, John’s Jesus makes it clear (as he does not in the Synoptics) that he is the emissary of God himself, sent to earth to deliver this crucial message with God’s own authority: “What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” (50) The question remains for each of us to answer: do I truly believe what Jesus (through John) is saying?

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