Psalm 121; 1 Kings 4:29–5:18; John 13:1–17

Originally published 11/9/2016. Revised and updated 11/9/2018.

Psalm 121: Those who despair over election results may wish to turn to this psalm for comfort and hope.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains:
from where will my help come?
My help is from the Lord,
maker of heaven and earth.” (1,2)

If we really believe Jesus is who he says he is and that God is ‘maker of heaven and earth,’ we can look to the future with equanimity and peace rather than fear. Our psalmist continues, reminding us that in the end is not humankind or its deeds that protect us. There is only one Protector:
He does not let your foot stumble./\
Your guard does not stumble
.” (3)

Regardless of human affairs and human deeds, God is on duty 24/7/365:
Look, He does not slumber nor does he sleep,
Israel’s guard
. (4)

Our poet employs a beautiful metaphor to describe the nature of God’s protection:
The Lord is your guard,
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
 (5)

I have assurance that I am fully protected from the harsh glare of evil that exists around me: By day the sun does not strike you,
nor the moon by night.”
(6)

Evil abounds in the world as we experience the societal effects of yet another mass shooting, just a couple of weeks after the last mass shooting. This psalm was doubtless of enormous succor to the people of Israel who suffered under a succession of of bad and frequently evil kings. Our psalmist asks us always to remember one thing as he concludes,
The Lord guards your going and your coming.
Now and forevermore.
(8)

In short, life will go on and those of us who trust God will find that one great fact of today that is the same as yesterday and will be tomorrow because we know that God will always guard over us. This is not to say that bad things won’t happen to us. They will. But in the end, God is on guard over us. We cannot lose hope.

1 Kings 4:29–5:18: Solomon’s reign is the high water mark of ancient Israel’s power and wealth. Our authors attribute Solomon’s wisdom to one source: “God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore.” (4:29) His wisdom outranks all other world leaders: “He was wiser than anyone else, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, children of Mahol; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations.” (31)

As proof of the fruits of that wisdom, our authors note that Solomon “composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five.” (32) Moreover, he was an expert in the natural sciences: “He would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish.” (33) As a result, “People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon.” (34) For this brief period Israel was the center of the world.

How that fact must have rankled our authors who wrote while Israel had been conquered by the Persians and Judah was in exile in Babylon. If we need proof that empires that seem permanent but are in fact evanescent, it is right here. Only God is permanent.

His power and reputation established, Solomon turns to the building of the temple. Solomon sends word to his ally, King Hiram of Tyre, noting that “You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him.” (5:3) But now that Israel is at peace, the time is right and Solomon “intend[s] to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’” (5:5)

Hiram is more than happy to participate in the temple project. He and Solomon sign a treaty and Tyre and Israel engage in one of the earliest records of international trade: “Hiram supplied Solomon’s every need for timber of cedar and cypress. Solomon in turn gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty cors of fine oil. Solomon gave this to Hiram year by year.” (5:10, 11)

One of the less publicized facts about Solomon building the temple is that he “conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men.” (5:13)  They were sent to Lebanon to cut trees and then back to Israel to use that wood in the temple itself. Multitudes were engaged in this great national project, including “seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country.” (5:15)

We can feel the pride of the authors as they lovingly describe the details of this great project.

John 13:1–17: John is writing his gospel some years after the three synoptics had been written, so he has no trouble dropping spoilers into his narrative: “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.” (2) John also tells us that Jesus was fully aware that his time on earth was nearing an end. Of course John, being John, states this in his usual ‘big picture’ philosophical way: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God.” (3)

And then Jesus does something completely unexpected—the apotheosis of true leadership. He becomes a servant to those whom he leads: “He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” (5) Peter, being Peter, protests that Jesus should not be doing this lowly act until Jesus rather curtly tells him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (8) At which point Peter overreacts and in an almost comical way, asking that Jesus also wash his hands and head. Jesus probably smiles and reassures him and the others that they are already clean.

The issue here is not about dirty feet or dirty hands. It is about the essential humility that Jesus displays and expects us as his followers to display as well. Jesus is setting the example that his disciples—and all of us—must follow: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (14)

But we also need to remember that we remain servants. This act of humility is exactly that. It does not elevate us or make us greater than others. As Jesus makes abundantly clear here: “I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” (16) We are to recognize who we are and what our position as Jesus followers must be: subservient to him. Too often, we have see ostensible Christian leaders see—and act—themselves as being greater than Jesus. That their message to their church is all about them. And then we see them fall.

The question of course is, are my acts truly humble because I have truly subjugated my own will to Jesus? Or am I simply faking humility?

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