Psalm 125; 1 Kings 8:17–53; John 14:15–24

Originally published 11/14/2016. Revised and updated 11/14/2018.

Psalm 125: This “song of ascents” focuses on the ground on which the temple is built—Mount Zion —rather then the temple itself. [Alter suggests this is because this post-exilic psalm was written after the temple was destroyed.] Like Mount Zion, Israel endures despite attempts to conquer and destroy it:
Those who trust in the lord
are like Mount Zion never shaken,
settled forever.

Just as Jerusalem is protected by a ring of mountains, God encircles his people to protect them: Jerusalem, mountains around it,
and the Lord is around His people
now and forevermore.

What great reassurance! That despite the depredations of its enemies, Jerusalem still stands tall and proud. As it dies 2500 years later. And that is the promise God makes to each of us: that despite the arrows of outrageous fortune; God is nearby; encircling us; protecting us.

However, to enjoy that protection, there must be righteousness. Our psalmist continues, declaring,
For the rod of righteousness will not rest
on the portion of the righteousness,
so that the righteous not set their hands
to wrongdoing.

In other words, there is no need for God to punish with his rod because the righteous will avoid temptations to sin. As is always the case in the OT, there is a reward for those who live righteously:
Do good, O Lord, to the good
and to the upright in their hearts.

On the other hand, God will punish those who deviate from the straight and narrow:
And those who bend to crookedness,
may the Lord take them off with the wrongdoers.

Once again we can see where the Pharisees got their motivation to hew to a righteous path, even to the point of overbearing punctiliousness. What is missing here in all these psalms is grace and forgiveness. I’m glad that Jesus, in coming to earth, brought grace and forgiveness with him.

1 Kings 8:17–53: Solomon continues his dedicatory speech, reminding his listeners that “My father David had it in mind to build a house for the name of the Lord.” (17) but that God promised him that “you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.” (19) Now that promise had been fulfilled via Solomon who has “built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (20).

Solomon makes an important point that the temple does not create boundaries around God: “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (27) God is much greater than the boxes we build for him to try to contain God. Even the temple in all its grandeur cannot contain God.

The major content of Solomon’s speech is in his lengthy prayer of dedication, which is a recapitulation of the meaning behind the Decalogue. The temple is where justice is occurs. God will “hear in heaven, and act, and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing their conduct on their own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding them according to their righteousness.” (32)

Where there is confession, there is forgiveness. When Israel as a nation is “defeated before an enemy but [Israel will] turn again to you, confess your name, pray and plead with you in this house…[God will] hear in heaven, forgive the sin of your people Israel, and bring them again to the land that you gave to their ancestors.” (33, 34) Of course as events will show, this act was too often ignored by Israel to its great peril and its final destruction some 400 years later.

Likewise, Israel is to pray for rain in time of drought or when the nation is besieged by famine, it is to come and pray, as Solomon asks God to “hear in heaven your dwelling place, forgive, act, and render to all whose hearts you know—according to all their ways, for only you know what is in every human heart.” (40) This is the centerpiece of Solomon’s prayer: that Israel is come to the temple and confess before God who will hear then and forgive them. For indeed, God knows the thoughts and motivations of every human heart—including ours. This is also why we should make prayer the centerpiece of our lives, as well.

As the author Hebrews makes clear, Jesus Christ replaces the priesthood of the temple as we come to Jesus with our confession of sin. And God forgives us not with bloody sacrifices on the altar as at the temple, but through the person of Jesus Christ who has made this once-and-for-all sacrifice.

Solomon concludes his prayer by reminding his listeners of God’s promise to Israel: “For you have separated them from among all the peoples of the earth, to be your heritage, just as you promised through Moses, your servant, when you brought our ancestors out of Egypt, O Lord God.” (53) Remarkably, this promise still stands today as the Jews remain a set-apart people.

John 14:15–24: Jesus’ valedictory announcement that he is going away to some mysterious place where his Father has prepared many dwellings has created enormous confusion, if not consternation among the disciples. One has already left to go betray Jesus. I’m pretty sure others in the room are considering bolting as well. Jesus reminds them that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (15) In other words, Jesus has tied the love he knows they have for him to their obedience through love rather than just righteous [too often, self-righteous] rule following—a direct revision of the theme of the psalm above.

The really good news is that neither they (nor we) have to rely strictly on their own willpower to do as Jesus has asked them. In one of those verses in which we glimpse the Trinity, Jesus assures them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (16) This Spirit is exclusive to those who believe in Jesus: “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” (17) Jesus tells them that this Advocate—about whom he will have much more to say later in this discourse—will abide in them. ‘Abide’ is crucial because it means to dwell within not just to come alongside.

To drive his point about comfort being available after he departs, Jesus reassures them, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (18) Through the Spirit they will come to understand (in another Trinitarian reference) that “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (20) Again, he drives home the point about the interiority of the Holy Spirit who comes into us to ‘abide’ in us.

Jesus then gives a hint of the regime to come after his earthly departure. For those who believe that Jesus is who he says he is, “I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (21) One of the disciples understandably asks, “how will you reveal yourself to us and not the world?” (22) It turns out the answer is really quite straightforward: Love. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (23) In stil another Trinitarian reference: “the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.” (24)

This is deep theology and frankly, impossible to really get our heads around. But theology and understanding is not really Jesus’ point. Rather, it is the love of the Father and of Jesus expressed through the Holy Spirit. We are to get our hearts around love first. Understanding comes later through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

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