Psalm 138:1–5; 1 Kings 21:17–22:28; John 19:38–20:9

Originally published 11/30/2016. Revised and updated 11/30/2018.

Psalm 138:1–5:  Although this psalm opens conventionally with praise—”I acclaim You with all my heart“—at first glance the second line is puzzling: “before gods I hymn to You.” (1b) Is the psalmist really worshiping God as just one among all these small-g gods? Perhaps he is writing in a place cluttered with idols (Babylon? Israel?) and knows that they are worthless artifacts when compared with worshipping the one true God.

In any event, this psalm quickly returns to its theme of worshipping God, who is of course at the temple in Jerusalem, for his two great qualities, his love and that he is the source of all truth:
I bow toward Your holy temple,
and I acclaim Your name
for Your kindness and Your steadfast truth.
 (2)

Moreover, for this poet, God heard his prayer and has responded:
On the day I called You answered me.
You made strength well up within me. (3)

In this heightened awareness of God having answered, the psalmist engages in prophecy that echoes the ideas expressed in Isaiah. At some point every person on earth will come to know God.
All the kings of the earth will acclaim You Lord.
For they have heard the words of Your mouth.
 (4)

When that happens the psalmist will not be worshipping God alone, but the leaders of all the earth will join in the hymns of praise:
And they will sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the Lord’s glory.
 (5)

This is a marvelous picture of a world to come where the lion has indeed laid down with the lamb and there will be no more war. Alas, that time still seems to be far off, although as the Creeds tell us, we wait with expectation.

 1 Kings 21:17–22:28: At long last, Ahab will enjoy the just desserts of his self-centered combination of avariciousness and general cluelessness which drive him to commit evil. Elijah is instructed by God to go to Ahab and pronounce his doom: “You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”  (21:19)

Ahab seems unsurprised at Elijah’s arrival as the prophet hurls the words of God’s judgement at the king—one of the really great prophetic imprecations we find in the Bible: “Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel,” (21)

Elijah goes on to inform the king that his progeny will enjoy the same fate as the houses of Jeroboam and Ahijah. The same shameful  fate will befall Jezebel as well: “‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.” (23)

At this point, apparently feeling their readers haven’t fully comprehended Ahab’s and Jezebel’s true evil natures, the authors feel compelled to point out parenthetically that of all the crimes committed by his predecessors, Ahab is worse: “ (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)” (25, 26)

Upon hearing Elijah’s words, Ahab seems to repent, donning sackcloth and going about “dejectedly” (27) In what I view to be a an editorial device to align this account of Ahab’s evil with the more mundane facts of what actually happened in history, our authors assert that because of Ahab’s apparent redemption, God amends the king’s fate, telling Elijah that “I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.” (21:29)

A three year peace with Aram ensues. The king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, comes to Ahab, who suggests that they go to war together and reclaim Ramoth-gilead from Aram. Jehoshaphat agrees, but advises that they pray about it first. Four hundred prophets from Israel tell the kings they should go to battle, but Jehoshaphat remains unconvinced and asks, Ahab, “Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?” (22:7) Ahab suggests they consult with a certain Micaiah.

Micaiah arrives. A court official advises Micaiah to fall in line with the other prophets: “the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” (13) But Micaiah resists the advice , telling the official that he will speak whatever God tells him to say.

Unsurprisingly, Micaiah is the exception and announces that they will lose the battle. The ever-whiny Ahab tells Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?” (22:18) Following an odd aside that God was seeking a way to “entice” Ahab to foolishly go into battle, Micaiah goes against the popular wisdom and goes on to explain that God is the one who “has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (23)

For his troubles, Micaiah is tossed into prison, too often the fate of those who go up against conventional wisdom. But I have a feeling he will have the last prophetic laugh.

If ever we needed an example of how a narcissist see the world, it’s right here: For Ahab, it’s all about him. The other lesson of course is that personalities focused solely on themselves do not “get” how the real world actually works and make foolish decisions, especially when they have rejected God and firmly placed their own personalities as the center of the universe. This behavior remains on full display in today’s world.

John 19:38–20:9: Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, albeit a secret one, asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus joins Joseph, bringing a hundred pounds of emollients with which to wrap Jesus body. John goes to some length here to describe how “the body of Jesus [was] wrapped with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.” (19:40) This is not only custom but reminds us that Jesus was truly dead and could never have escaped the wrapping had he merely been unconscious, as some resurrection scoffers have theorized.

What I hadn’t appreciated before is that they chose the tomb based on its convenient location and that time was running out before sunset, which would prevent further activity: “because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (19:42)

In this gospel account, it is only Mary Magdalene who comes to the tomb the next morning and discovers the “the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (20:1) She runs to get Peter and John (once again that self-referential literary device to avoid giving his name as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”) In an amusing autobiographical note, “The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” (20:4) But John only peers inside the tomb, seeing the linen wrappings. Ever impetuously brave (or foolhardy), Peter hurries inside the tomb first. In keeping with the fundamental theme of this gospel, John then enters the tomb and “and he saw and believed.” (20:8)

John  believed, but he did not fully comprehend the enormity of what had happened. As our author points out, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (9) I think at a conceptual level John believed that what Jesus had said about himself, but the concept of the resurrection that he heard Jesus talk about in the upper room was a lot different than the physical reality of the Resurrection. He saw evidence of something that was (and remains) unprecedented in history. No wonder he simultaneously believed and remained puzzled.  I think that is how we have to approach the Resurrection as well. In fact I think the intertwining of belief and puzzlement is a pretty good operating definition of faith itself.

 

 

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