Psalm 108:7–14; 1 Samuel 13; John 1:43–51

Originally published 9/21/2016. revised and updated 9/21/2018.

Psalm 108:7–14: The tone of the psalm abruptly shifts from thanksgiving to supplication as our poet pleads,
that Your beloved ones be saved,
rescue with Your right hand, answer me.
 (7)

He recalls that “God once spoke in His holiness:” (8a) and then proceeds to quote much of Psalm 60—a catalog of places in Israel God has blessed—speaking in God’s voice:
Let me exult and share out Shechem,
and the valley of Sukkoth I shall measure.
Mine is Gilead, Mine Manasseh,
and Ephraim My foremost stronghold,
Judah my scepter. (8b, 9)

Likewise, the places God has cursed as the poet continues writing in God’s voice:
Moab is my washbasin,
upon Edom I fling my sandal,
over Philistia I shout exultant. (10)

But then we hear the poet’s frustrated cry, indicating that the present straits are dire indeed:
Have You not, O God, abandoned us?
You do not sally forth, O God, with our armies.
 (12)

At this point the psalm becomes a foxhole prayer. The men of Israel’s army have tried everything on their own, now in desperation they finally turn to God for aid: “\
Give us help against the
foe when rescue by man is in vain.
 (13)

But notice the prayer is not for some kind of divine intervention or miracle so much as it is for God to renew their downtrodden spirit:
Through God we shall gather strength,
and He will stamp out our foes.
 (14)

I think the key here is that when we are besieged on all sides, we turn to God for the strength of will to forge onward. Too often, though, our prayers are for God to do some sort of divine intervention for us. Like our psalmist, we should be praying for God to renew our own strength and courage for the task ahead.

1 Samuel 13: Saul’s kingly career appears to be dedicated to fighting the Philistines. He winnows his army down in 3000—2000 under his command, 1000 under his son Jonathan’s—in order to include only the best fighters. Saul is confident and “the rest of the people he sent home to their tents.” (2) However, the Philistines have the technological advantage of 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, as well as “troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude.” (5) All of Israel around Gilgal are under siege and “the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns.” (6) Those in the army still following Saul were also trembling in fear. Over-confident Saul has made a severe strategic error.

Saul waits seven days for Samuel to arrive to make a sacrifice as he was instructed by the old judge to do. But Saul is impatient and sees that his troops are deserting him. So he takes it upon himself offers a burnt sacrifice without Samuel present. Samuel shows up almost immediately afterward and asks,  “What have you done?” (11) Saul rather lamely explains that his troops were deserting him and he had to act to make sure he had God’s favor. Samuel chastises him, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you.” (13)

Saul pays a heavy price for his impetuousness as Samuel tells him that a dynasty arising from his line will not happen: “now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart;” (14a) God has decided on another (and we know who!) through which the dynasty will continue: the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”  (14) And of course it is that dynasty out of which Jesus will come. Saul pays a heavy price to pay for his impatience.

Saul is down to a mere 600 troops and they endure three raids by the Philistines. To ensure that Israel could not arm itself, the Philistines had banned blacksmiths: “There was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel,” (19) And they forced the people to go “down to the Philistines to sharpen their plowshares, mattocks, axes, or sickles.” (20) [Our authors even helpfully provide us with the price list for these service!] “So on the day of the battle neither sword nor spear was to be found in the possession of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan.” (22) Only Saul and Jonathan have swords and spears.

Things are not looking good for Israel.

I can really sympathize with Saul as he waits for seven days and watches his once-strong army desert him. I think I’d take matters into my own hands just as he did. But acting too hastily and attempting to control events can have dire consequences as Saul found out to his sorrow. So, yes, I should wait patiently as things develop. But like Saul, it’s tempting to act on our own when God continues to be silent.

John 1:43–51: In the Synoptics Jesus is already at Capernaum in Galilee when he meets Peter. However, in John that encounter apparently happened in Bethsaida and our writer tells us that Philip is also from “the city of Andrew and Peter.” (44)

Social networking is hardly a new phenomenon, and it’s Philip who “found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (45) Nathaniel, in a wonderfully cynical statement asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (46) Rather than answer, Philips simply invites his friend to, “Come and see.”

Philip is a great lesson for all of us. It is not theological or philosophical arguments that bring people to Jesus. Nor can we convince them or change their lives. Rather, our duty is to invite; to ask someone to “come and see” for themselves. That’s when the Holy Spirit takes over.

As Nathaniel approaches Jesus, whom he has never met, Jesus exclaims, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathaniel logically wonders how Jesus knew him well enough to make that assertion and asks, “Where did you get to know me?” (48) Jesus replies he saw him off in the distance under the fig tree with Philip. This insight causes Nathaniel to become an instant convert for he has truly come and truly seen: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (49) Jesus assures him that he “will see greater things than these.” (50)

As will invariably be the case through the book, our gospel writer is writing at both the narrative and symbolic levels. Yes, there’s a physical encounter between Jesus and Nathaniel, but Nathaniel is also the symbolic stand-in for everyone who asks cynically who this Jesus is and when they encounter him—when they ‘come and see’—their lives are changed forever.

Psalm 108:1–5; 1 Samuel 11,12; John 1:29–42

Originally published 9/20/2016. revised and updated 9/20/2018.

Psalm 108:1–6: The first verses of this David psalm [which Alter points out are essentially the same as Psalm 57] suggest personal worship as the poet intones,
My heart is firm, O God.
Let me sing and hymn
with my inward being, too
. (2)

True worship requires the participation of our entire being, not just rote outward language and form. Unless our heart is fully engaged our singing and praying is mere play-acting.

This psalm certainly reinforces the image of David as musician:
Awake, O lute and lyre.
I would waken the dawn.
 (3)

[Which seems highly appropriate as I write this at 6:10 a.m. while it is still dark outside…]

From our engaged inner being, our act of worship spreads outward to others. For the poet writing in David’s voice, that would be everybody in his kingdom—and beyond:
Let me acclaim You among the peoples, Lord.
Let me hymn You among the nations.
 (4)

Evangelism and witness do not occur in isolation; they can only happen as an outcome of our entire being enveloped in a worshipful relationship with God.

We can celebrate this relationship with all beings because God’s mercy suffuses creation in its entirety:
For Your kindness is great over the heavens,
and Your steadfast truth to the skies. (5)

The psalm places God in his usual location, up in heaven looking down on his glorious creation:
Loom over the heavens, O God.
Over all the earth Your glory. (6)

1 Samuel 11,12: Nahash the Ammonite is on a rampage and besieges the Israelites at Jabest. The inhabitants of that town attempt to surrender peacefully, but the Ammonite king asserts, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, namely that I gouge out everyone’s right eye, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel.” (11:2) The elders ask for a 7-day cease-fire so messengers can go to the rest of Israel and seek help.

Saul gets the message and “the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.” (11:6) In his anger he slaughters a yoke of oxen and sends the pieces throughout all Israel—reminiscent of the Levite who cut up his dead concubine and sent a piece to each tribe. Apparently this was a dramatic way of getting the word out that people are serious.  Saul sends the oxen steaks all throughout Israel, along with the threat to anyone who will not join in attacking the Ammonites will enjoy a fate just like the oxen. “Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one,” (7) and an army of 370,000 presents itself to Saul.

Hearing this, the inhabitants of Jabesh send word to the Ammonites that they’ll give up the next day. But instead of surrender, the Israelite army appears and slaughters the Ammonites. The people want to put the few Ammonite survivors to death, but Saul, truly a man of God at this point, says “No one shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has brought deliverance to Israel.” (11:13) Having proved his leadership, Saul is officially crowned king of Israel.

Samuel realizes that his time is over and that Saul is fully in charge. He asks the people if he’s done anything wrong or taken anything that is not his during the many years he has judged Israel. The people respond, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from the hand of anyone.” (12:4) This establishes his unassailable credibility for what he is about to tell them.

Samuel wants the people to fully understand the cost of rejecting God’s rule through the judges and crowning a king instead. Samuel  recapitulates the history of Israel and the many times they rejected God, but that God was merciful and how preserved them from the time when Jacob went down to Egypt to the recent victory over the Ammonites.

To prove that the people have done a wicked thing in rejecting God in favor of Saul, Samuel says God will send thunder and rain on the day of the wheat harvest. Which is exactly what happens. The people confess their evil, asking Samuel to “pray to the Lord your God for your servants, so that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of demanding a king for ourselves.” (12:19) Samuel replies that God will have mercy on them as long as they do not turn away from God. Further, he says, “do not turn aside after useless things that cannot profit or save, for they are useless.” (21)

Which is excellent advice to us as well: loving and obeying God is our highest priority. Yet we, Like Israel, find it so easy to be distracted by things such as seeking wealth or power or status that seem more important in the moment but that never are.

Samuel’s last words hang in the air down through the centuries of Israel’s checkered history under kings ranging from excellent to abysmal: “Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you.” (24) But it is his final sentence that predicts exactly what ultimately happened: “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” (12:25) —As our authors writing from exile in Babylon know all too well.

John 1:29–42: John’s description of Jesus’ baptism is theologically rich. First, in a direct quote from Isaiah, John announces, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (29), which is exactly the overarching theme of this Gospel. Even though they were second cousins, John did not apparently know Jesus before this time and asserts that his ministry of baptism existed solely “that he [the Messiah] might be revealed to Israel.” (31)

John has received a vision that says that ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (33) For this gospel writer there is no voice speaking from heaven, rather it is John who says, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (34) Once again, our writer reasserts the theme: Jesus is the Lamb of God, who is also the Son of God, who has come to rescue all humankind.

Unlike the Synoptics, John the Baptist remains on the scene, “standing with two of his disciples.” (35) Jesus walks by and John once again (in case we missed it the first time) exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (36) And two of John’s disciples decide to follow Jesus instead instead of John. Once again, our writer is making it clear that John was the messenger; Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus asks the two new recruits, “What are you looking for?” (38) The answer is they want to know where Jesus is staying. Jesus’ famous reply is, “Come and see.” (39) This being the Gospel of John, virtually every word Jesus says is operating at two levels: the physical and the theological. Jesus’ answer is not about where he is residing, but it is exactly Jesus’ invitation to all of us: we are to come and see what Jesus has done, is doing, for us.

It is Andrew who has recruited his brother Simon to “come and see” when he excitedly tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah.“(41) This realization is in great contradistinction to the Synoptic accounts where it takes essentially being with Jesus for three years for the disciples realize that Jesus actually is the promised Messiah.

Simon, whom Jesus has never met, appears before Jesus, who already knows his name ” telling him, “You are Simon son of John.” (42). Just as Jesus know our names. All we need to do is “come and see.” And just as Jesus gave Simon a new name—Peter— Jesus transforms us as well. We may not have a new name, but our gospel writer is telling us that we become new persons when we enter into relationship with Jesus.

 

Psalm 107:33–43; 1 Samuel 10; John 1:14–28

Originally published 9/19/2016. revised and updated 9/19/2018.

Psalm 107:33–43: In the deuteronomic culture that was Israel and Judah, the terms of the covenant were always crystal clear. Abandon God and he will abandon them, canceling  the elements of prosperity—even nature itself—as a consequence:
He turns rivers into wilderness
and springs of water into thirsty ground,
fruitful land into salt flats,
because of the evil of those who dwell there
. (33, 34)

Conversely, obedience renders blessing:
He turns wilderness to pools of water,
and parched lands to springs of water,
and settles there the hungry,
firmly founds a settled town.
 (35, 36)

And in that happy, God-fearing agrarian society,
…they sow fields and they plant vineyards,
which produce a fruitful yield.
 (37)

This fecundity extends to that most valuable proof of being blessed by God: progeny:
And He blesses them and they multiply greatly,
and their beasts He does not let dwindle.
 (38)

Nevertheless, even among this happiness, there is always the underlying theme of the rich and powerful oppressing the weak and poor. Our psalmist writes how God will hand them the consequences of their oppression in due time:
He pours contempt upon the princes,
and makes them wander in trackless waste.
 (40)

They will receive what they have handed out when they are captured by their enemies: And they dwindle and are bowed down,
from harsh oppression and sorrow
. (39)

Once again there is symmetry. As the princes “bow down,” the weak and powerless will be lifted up:
And He raises the needy from affliction,
and increases his clans like flocks.
 (41)

This neverending tension between the powerful and the weak is the underlying moral of this psalm:
Let the upright see and rejoice,
and all wickedness shut its mouth.
 (42)

The psalmist concludes not too subtly,
He who is wise will watch these
and take to heart the Lord’s kindnesses.
” (43)

Although I believe life is far more complex than this simple good-bad/ blessing-suffering symmetry, the final verse is one we can take to heart in our fallen world today.  As Jesus reminds us in one of hs final parables, only by watching and staying alert we will perceive God’s love—and God’s justice.

1 Samuel 10: Samuel anoints Saul with oil, and announces, “The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around.” (1) But that single act is not necessarily persuasive to Saul that he’s king. To prove the legitimacy of what Samuel has done, the old prophet makes three predictions about who Saul will meet, what they’ll have with them—among other things, a person carrying bread and wine— and what will be said. The most dramatic of these encounters is with the prophets who are in a “prophetic frenzy.” Samuel tells Saul he will be caught up in the same frenzy: “Then the spirit of the Lord will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person.” (6) Saul is then to meet up with Samuel seven days hence when the prophet appears.

As Saul leaves Samuel, “God gave him another heart; and all these signs were fulfilled that day.” (9)  This is a great reminder that an encounter with God and Jesus Christ is life-transforming. We come away with a “new heart.” The question of course is, in the long run will we turn out like Saul or like David?

Saul returns home. His uncle asks, “Tell me what Samuel said to you.” (15). Saul tells him everything except “about the matter of the kingship, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.” (16) Why not? Probably because his uncle would think Saul to be insane. But there’s a larger reason why Saul did not reveal his imminent kingship as the narrative returns to Samuel.

Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah ” (17) and reminds them that they have rejected God’s protection even though God has led them from the wilderness to the promised land. To select the king, lots will be drawn. The lots narrow down to Saul’s family and “Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot.” (21) Of course the lottery has been rigged by God, who ensures that the lot falls upon Saul so that it appears he has been chosen at random and thus, it is God’s will rather than Samuel’s.

Saul is identified as king but he is nowhere to be found. Eventually he’s found hiding in the baggage and is brought forth as Samuel announces: “There is no one like him among all the people. And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!” (24)

But there will be no honeymoon for the new king. The plots begin early: “some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” They despised him and brought him no present.” (27) Moreover, there’s a tough political situation with the Ammonites, whose king has been gouging out the right eye of all the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan. Saul faces enormous challenges ahead.

It’s almost as if God sets out right away to prove that Israel has made a poor choice in demanding a king rather than allowing God to speak and lead through the prophets and judges.

John 1:14–28: John wastes no time in articulating the weighty theology of the incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (14) Further, John tells us, the Word is the instrument of God’s salvation which we have received as a gift: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (16) Our gospel writer then states the great distinction between the old covenant and the new: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (17) (Would that Paul could write so tersely!)

But perhaps John’s boldest statement is that Jesus is the sole evidence we have have been given that really tells us God is all about: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (18) This would seem to be a direct reference to the theophany where Moses could see only God’s reflected glory. Now we will experience God head on through Jesus.

John moves into his narrative about John the Baptist—a far more complex story than the simplicity of the Synoptics. John the Baptist has apparently been brought before the temple authorities, who demand to know if he is the Messiah. John assures them he is not, but is rather the messenger announcing the arrival of the Messiah, which he substantiates by quoting Isaiah:

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” (23)

The Pharisees challenge John about his effrontery, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” (25) But John simply responds that he merely baptizes with water and as for the one who is coming, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” (27) strongly suggesting that one will be the actual Messiah.

I see this passage as this gospel’s nativity story. The key here is that Jesus “birth” begins in heaven as the Word. The Word has been made flesh and is shortly to arrive on the scene. Although John doesn’t say so here, we can’t miss the implication that this person will be the Messiah.

John the Baptist is the John’s dramatic bridge from high theology to the man Jesus himself. The final verse of the reading brings us out of theological discourse and sets us down at a specific place and time where Jesus will be introduced to everyone: “This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.” (28)

 

Psalm 107:23–32; 1 Samuel 9; John 1:1–13

Originally published 9/17/2016. revised and updated 9/18/2018.

Psalm 107:23–32:
Those who go down to the sea in ships,
who do tasks in the mighty waters
.
It is they who have seen the deeds of the Lord,
and His wonders in the deep. (23, 24)

The first two lines of this verse are famously quoted in Melville’s Moby Dick by the preacher at the Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford before the crew of the Pequod sets out on their doomed journey. Perhaps it is in the vastness of the ocean where one becomes more aware of God’s creative power. And even today scientists are discovering “deeds of the Lord” in the ocean depths that no one could ever have imagined.

But these verses about the sea seem almost to be a different poem, inserted here in the midst of the psalm about freed captives trudging home in the wilderness. Suddenly we have a new subject—sailors—enduring storms on the sea:
He [God] speaks and raises the stormwind
and it makes the waves loom high. (25)

On the other hand there is a striking parallel here in the juxtaposition of some suffering in the heat of the desert while others suffer in the midst of God’s mighty ocean.

In a verse that seems to pre-echo Paul’s shipwreck described in Acts 27, we can feel the tiny ship being tossed to and fro by the mighty waves as the sailors attempt to hang on in this brilliant description of the impact on humans during a storm at sea:
They go up to the heavens,
come down to the depths,
their life-breath in hardship grows faint.
They reel and sway like a drunkard,
all their wisdom is swallowed up
.” (26, 27)

Like those souls lost in the desert, “they cry to the Lord” (28a). And once again, God is their rescuer: “from their straits from their distress He brings them out.” (28b)

In lines that bring to mind Jesus calming the sea of Galilee, God acts:
He turns the storm into silence, and its waves are stilled,
and the rejoice that these have grown quiet.
” (29, 30a)

I don’t think it’s stretching these verses too far to read them as a metaphor for how earnest prayer can calm the stormy emotional seas of our own lives.

As always, our response to being brought by God to safe harbor away from the storm is gratitude expressed in worship in a reprise of verse 31:
Let them acclaim to the Lord in His kindness
and His wonders to humankind
.

Storms, Prayer, rescue, worship should be the liturgy of our life. For only God through Jesus Christ can calm the storms of our heart.

1 Samuel 9: Saul, “a handsome young man” is chosen to be Israel’s king. As is even the case today, it is tall people who win out: “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” (2)

While searching in vain for his father’s lost donkeys, Saul feels they have traveled too far and that his father will begin to worry about his absence. The boy with him suggests they find a man of God, a plan to which Saul agrees. In a Hollywood-like coincidence, they come upon Samuel. It turns out that “the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel.” (16) When Samuel sees Saul, God speaks up again to make sure the old priest got the message: “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.” (17)

Saul is rather puzzled when Samuel tells him it is he “on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and on all your ancestral house?” (20) Saul replies that “I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin.” (21) Nevertheless, Saul dines with Samuel and is invited to stay overnight. The next morning, Samuel awakens Saul and they leave town together. Once they reach the town’s outskirts, Samuel tells Saul to send his boy on ahead of them. Samuel has an important task to perform…

What’s striking to me here is that even though Saul becomes a tyrant in the end (just as God predicted would happen), Saul is God’s choice. God has not abandoned Israel and has been careful to choose the best leader for them. But as always, it is Israel and then Saul who eventually abandons God. Nevertheless, Saul is God’s man at this moment.

John 1:1–13: The last of the gospels to be written, John opens with a theological treatise. There is no John the baptizer as in Mark or nativity stories as in Matthew and Luke. Rather, John’s opening scene is in heaven itself at the beginning of time: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1) And to make sure we get the point, John repeats himself: “He was in the beginning with God.” (2) The Word—who we will learn is Jesus—was with God at the beginning of creation—and is therefore the source of life itself: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (3)

In fact, for John, the Word is the source of light that separated all life from the darkness. This is not just the darkness of night, but impenetrable blackness As we will see throughout this gospel, the Light is just one of the many metaphors for Jesus. Those who reject Jesus remain in this theological darkness.

John gives fairly short shrift to John the Baptist, making sure his community—and we— understand that the Baptizer was simply the messenger; that he “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” (8) In a subtle pun, John informs us that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (9) Much hangs on the word, “enlighten.”  For me, this is really John’s theme of the book: that the stories of Jesus he is writing about will enlighten us.

John also gives away the ending right here in the opening verses by telling us how Jesus was rejected by the Jews, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (11) But more importantly, that in that rejection the Good News came to all humankind: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (12) As we will see, John is all about “believing.” And it is believing in the Light that is life-changing.

At first read the final verse about the children of God seems puzzling: “who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (13) It is the children of God—those who believe in Jesus—who are not born of ancestral blood or of the sexual act (the will of the flesh). Rather they are born of God himself. This is a theological  precursor of the theme of being “born again” that Jesus takes up with Nicodemus in chapter 3.

 

Psalm 107:17–22; 1 Samuel 7:2–8:22; Luke 24:36–53

Originally published 9/16/2016. revised and updated 9/17/2018.

Psalm 107:17–22: Our psalmist reminds us that as sinners we humans are foolish people and we reap the consequences of our stupid, sinful actions:
Fools because of their sinful way,
because of their misdeed they were afflicted.
 (17)

Clearly, Israel’s captivity was one of the consequences and apparently the food they were given was inedible (or more likely, ritually unclean) that it is rejected even to the point of starvation:
All food their throat rejected,
they came to the gates of death
. (18)

Once again, God hears their desperate prayers and responds:
And they cried to the Lord from their straits,
from their distress He rescued them.
 (19)

And once again, we are reassured that God will always rescue us if we turn to him: Foxhole prayers do indeed work. What’s interesting here is that the means of rescue is God speaking. In other words, prayer, even desperate prayer is a conversation:
He sent forth His word and healed them,
and delivered them from their pit.
” (20)

As always, our response to God’s rescue must first be worship:
Let them acclaim to the Lord His kindness,
and His wonders to humankind
. (21)

Here, there is the obvious sense of worship also being evangelical: it’s our responsibility to sing and tell God’s praises—not just to ourselves, but to our neighbors and culture as well. Indeed, to all humankind.

In a direct reference to the fact that this psalm was sung at the temple, our psalmist concludes this passage by reminding us that worship then included sacrifices given in gratitude:
And offer thanksgiving sacrifices
and recount His deed in glad song
. (22)

Today, the nature of our sacrifices may be quite different. But we respond to the fact of our salvation with joy and yes, with our sacrificial offerings out of the bounty God has so generously given us.

1 Samuel 7:2–8:22: The Ark has been rescued from the Philistines although trouble seems to follow it everywhere. In any event, “the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years,” (7:2) This becomes the catalyst for Israel’s repentance—at least for a time: “So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.” (4) This time, when the Philistines try to attack Israel, Israel turns to God. As Samuel is offering a sacrifice, the Philistines show up, ready to attack. “But the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel.” (10) This time God is on their side and “the towns that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel,” (14a) Plus, a bonus: peace “between Israel and the Amorites.” (14b)

Samuel is the paragon of a good judge as “he administered justice there to Israel, and built there an altar to the Lord” (7:17) at Ramah.

Samuel grows old and like his mentor Eli, he has two sons, whom he places in priestly positions. Alas, just like the sons of Eli, they “did not follow in his [Samuel’s] ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.” (8:3) So in frustration, the leaders of Israel come to Samuel and tell him, “Give us a king to govern us.” (8:6) Samuel is none too pleased, but he prays to God about the matter. God answers, telling Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people,” noting that it is not Samuel whom they have rejected, “but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (8:7) The system of God as king and God-appointed judges as God’s administrators has broken down completely.

God tells Samuel that “you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (8:9) A passage describing the downsides of kingly rule follows, obviously based on the all too real experience of our priestly authors. The king “will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots…He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.. . . He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.” (12-16). Worst of all, “he will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” (17) Finally the ominous threat from God: “In that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (18) I have to admit that God sounds a little jealous and peevish here.

This passage has tremendous resonance for me two years into the present administration in Washington DC. The president was elected as many cried out—and voted for— “strong leadership.”  But like the Israelites they have failed to consider the cost of that strong leadership. We would do well to reflect on the poor choice Israel is about to make. They are determined and “the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (8:19, 20) Substitute ‘president’ for ‘king,’ and this line is eerily apropos today.

Luke 24:36–53: Jesus finally makes his appearance before the inner circle of disciples with the simple greeting, “Peace be with you.” (36). Even though they had all heard about the resurrection, his surprising appearance caused them to be “startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (37) But terror quickly turns to joy. Jesus proves his corporeality by asking them to touch him, and then asks as if nothing is at all unusual,“Have you anything here to eat?” (41)  and then proceeds to eat a fish.

I think this passage is here because it’s likely that in Luke’s community the heresy that the resurrected Jesus was merely spirit had already arisen and Luke wishes to put these doubts firmly to rest.

Jesus resumes his role as rabbi and “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,” (45) explaining that the Hebrew scriptures predicted exactly the event occurred: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.” (46) Moreover, resurrection is accompanied by “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (47), which is Luke’s brief summary of the Great Commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

Jesus instructs them all to remain in Jerusalem because “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (49) He proceeds out to Bethany, offers a final blessing and “he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” (50) Jesus’ resurrected appearance has transformed the disciples from a frightened band hiding from the authorities to men and women “continually in the temple blessing God.” (52) Jesus doesn’t merely save us, he transforms us.

Luke ends his Part I on this joyous note and he will circle back around to Jesus’ ascension in the first chapter of Part II, the book of Acts. However, whoever determined the order of the Canon is requiring us to read the Gospel of John before we come back to Luke.

 

Psalm 107:10-16; 1 Samuel 5:1-7:1; Luke 24:28-35

Originally published 9/17/2014 Revised and updated 9/15/2018

Psalm 107:10–16: This section of the psalm seems to be a close parallel to the current readings in I Samuel where Israel is constantly rebelling against God because they do not like the rules God has laid down:
For they rebelled against God’s sayings,
the Most High’s counsel they despised. (11)

This is one of those verses that is completely applicable to today’s cultural reality: we are a society that believes either God is superfluous or that there is no God at all. Needless to say, there are consequences of their rebellion—as I believe there will be consequences of our own culture’s rebellion:
And He brought their heart low in troubles,
they stumbled with none to help. (12)

Israel figures our that abandoning God has dire consequences and they finally repent and turn back to God, who unsurprisingly, rescues them:
And they cried out to the Lord from their straits,
from their distress He rescued them.
He brought them out from the dark and death’s shadow
and their bonds He sundered. (13, 14)

Will we as individuals and as a culture ever turn back and cry out to God for rescue? What dreadful circumstances will exist to cause American culture to do that? Or are we too far gone?

As for their rescued Israel, its response is worshipping the God who set them free from both real and metaphorical prison:
Let them acclaim to the Lord His kindness
and His wonders to humankind.
For He shattered the doors of bronze
and the iron bars he hacked off. (15, 16)

Into what prison have we placed ourselves in our efforts to place our own ego at the center of our lives? All we need to do (hah!) is realize and then accept that God is at the center of our lives, and abandon our own delusion that we control our destiny. It’s a worn out cliche because it’s true: “Let go and let God.”  But that is far more difficult than just mouthing it. The doing it is the hard part and it’s why we need to abandon our self-centeredness again and again: every morning when we wake up.

1 Samuel 5:1-7:1: The Philistines quickly discover that their great war trophy, the Ark of the Covenant, brings disaster, not triumph. They set it up in their temple next to their idol, Dagon. In an almost humorous note, Dagon is found the next morning, fallen from its shelf onto its face. Then the next morning, the idol has been msteriously cut in pieces. The Philistines wisely conclude that they will be better off without the Ark and pass it off to the willing inhabitants of Gath. Disaster ensues –something like the black plague–as they plead, “let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” (5:11).  It’s clear the Ark belongs only to one tribe: Israel.

Now the problem is how to get it back to Israel. After consulting the priests, the Ark is placed on a wooden cart together with a guilt offering, gold shaped as mice and as the tumors. The whole affair is pulled by two milk cows(!) The cows wander off and come back to Israel at Beth-shemesh.  The people recognize the Ark, and “When they looked up and saw the ark, they went with rejoicing to meet it.” (6:13). After seven months, the Ark is finally back in its rightful land.

The lesson here is not only that God is more powerful than the false Gods, but God will not be mocked. Had the Philistines realized that the God of Israel was more powerful than their own, and that the Ark was something far greater than a war trophy, there may have been a very different outcome for them. So too, today, where God has been determined to be a delusion by those who claim to be wise, what fate awaits them?

 Luke 24:28-35: We owe much to the unnamed walkers on the road to Emmaus. Even though they had not recognized Jesus, and as the reach Emmaus, Jesus “walked ahead as if he were going on.” (28) Notice Luke’s “as if.” Jesus seems to be performing a little test. Will these two men invite him, a stranger, to dinner? They do, and they recognize Jesus as he breaks bread with them.

I think Luke’s message is, even though we may not recognize Jesus as he walks along side us, will we invite the stranger in? This incident in Emmaus seems to be an acting out of Jesus’ all-important words in Matthew 25 (“I was hungry and you fed me…”) By offering kindness to this seeming stranger, the Emmaens offered kindness to Jesus himself. As we, too, should offer kindness to those who are hungry and in need. For we may also find we are indeed supping with Jesus.

As well, like the Emmaens, we have that same opportunity to recognize anew who Jesus is each and every time we come to the altar rail to join him in supper. It is not a ritual; it is a cause of rejoicing and to realize that our hearts are also burning in the passionate joy that the risen Jesus brings to us.

Psalm 107:1–9; 1 Samuel 3,4; Luke 24:13–27

Originally published 9/14/2016. revised and updated 9/14/2018.

Psalm 107:1–9: This psalm of collective thanksgiving opens with a pretty standard invocation—but one it would be good to hear open worship every Sunday morning:
Acclaim the Lord, for He is good
for His kindness is forever. (1)

The psalm goes on to celebrate the event of scattered Israel returning from exile:
Let the Lord’s redeemed ones say,
whom He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
and gathered them from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.” (2, 3)

Here, redemption is not theological but political. Those celebrating apparently have been held captive and through God’s intervention they have been set free to return home, which is far away. This suggests this is a psalm that would have been offered in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s time after the Babylonian exile and the beginning of the restoration of Jerusalem.

Our poet evokes the Exodus story, but this later wandering sounds even more desperate than the original wandering in the wilderness since it appears there was no cloud or fire leading them nor was there water and food. Instead, they were more like released captives trying to get back home after many years, some near death or even dying on the journey:
They wandered in wilderness, waste land,
found no road to a settled town,
hungry, thirsty, too,
their life-breath failed within them. (4, 5)

These wanderers cry out and God responds with rescue:
And they cried to the Lord in their straits,
and from their distress He saved them
.
He led them on a straight road
to go to a settled town. 
 (6, 7)

I’m tempted to add another layer of meaning to ‘straight road,’ as in following God’s way, but I think the psalmist is simply referring to the fact that God led Israel physically back to Jerusalem—the ‘settled town.’

God’s rescue through Jesus Christ is the root cause for our celebration and thanksgiving as well:
Let them acclaim to the Lord His kindness
and His wonders to humankind.
 (8)

Notice the evangelical connotation here: that rescued Israel would shout to any and all nations around them about God’s manifest mercy.

1 Samuel 3,4: Although he is still a boy, “Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli.” (3:1) BUt he is clearly in a minority as the authors note that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” (3:1b)

In this famous story that I first heard in Sunday School back in the 1950’s, Samuel hears God’s voice, but logically assumes it is Eli who is calling him. Eli tells him to go back to bed, but Samuel hears God’s voice once again. Samuel awakens his guardian priest once again, who once again tells him to go back to bed. Finally, on the third go, Eli realizes what’s happening: that God is indeed calling Samuel. Eli instructs the boy to lie down again and when he hears the voice to say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ (9)

God does not bring good news but announces that the fate awaiting Eli and his family is about to be executed: “For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” (13)

The boy is understandably reluctant to convey this bad news to Eli. But Eli insists and “Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.” (18) Thus begins Samuel’s prophetic career and “the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” (3:21)

Chapter 4 opens with the defeat of Israel by the Philistines. Four thousand soldiers lay dead, and it occurs to the Israeli generals that they need to have the Ark of the Covenant, currently located at Shiloh, brought to the field of battle, as a source of power and encouragement to the troops for the ongoing battle. The Ark arrives and all Israel begins shouting. It appears the ark is having its intended effect. When the Philistines learn this they “were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.” (4:7)

But the Philistines regain their courage and ultimately defeat Israel, leaving 30,000 dead men in the field. Even worse, the ark is captured, and as predicted, the two sons of Eli die. A messenger brings the bad news back to Shiloh. Eli is already fearful and it’s clear here that he unsuccessfully resisted the plan to take the ark into battle: “for his heart trembled for the ark of God.” (4:13) The messenger tells Eli what has happened: “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the troops; your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” (4:17) Eli, who we learn is 98 years old, falls over, breaks his neck and dies.

Eli’s pregnant daughter-in-law goes into early labor. Just before she dies, she names her son, Ichabod, “meaning, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.” (4:21) Inasmuch as the man from God promises that Eli’s family will be wiped out we wonder what will happen with Ichabod.

There are several morals to this story, but for me the lesson is that God will not be trifled with. The disastrous decision to bring the ark into the field as some sort of talismanic encouragement to the troops is clearly a form of blasphemy. The lesson for us is that we cannot bend God to our own will and purposes. And yet that is exactly what people and entire nations have tried to do ever since this ancient battle. This story is a powerful reminder to those who claim that God is on America’s side or more recently, that God has a special affection for America, just as he once did for Israel. Well, not really. Look what happened here. The real question is, are we on God’s side?

Luke 24:13–27: Only Luke records the walk to Emmaus. Two of Jesus’ disciples not of the inner circle depart Jerusalem in deep sadness. As they walk along, Jesus joins them, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (16)

As if he didn’t already know, Jesus asks what the two are discussing. They rather incredulously reply that this stranger must be the only guy around for miles that didn’t know what happened in Jerusalem three days ago: “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” (19) They state what every follower of Jesus had wanted: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (21).

They go on to relate the mysterious events at the tomb and that “some women of our group astounded us,” (22) and that the people there “had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” (23). I gather that these two discouraged walkers were among a large number of people who stopped by the empty tomb on their way out of town. But no one, including these two, had yet seen Jesus.

Jesus replies, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” (25) He then launches into a theological treatise and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (27)

This story is Luke’s way of conveying directly and forcefully that Jesus was indeed the Jewish messiah and that he was the complete fulfillment of all that had been prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures. It’s a different literary technique than Matthew and John who repeatedly say through the course of his public ministry that when Jesus did such and such it was “so the scriptures would be fulfilled.” Luke saves this revelation up for the very powerful human drama that is the walk to Emmaus. The two men are all of Israel; indeed, they are all of us. Luke is certainly making it clear that Jesus is indeed the unrecognized Jewish Messiah.

Psalm 106:40–48; 1 Samuel 2:12–36; Luke 24:1–12

Originally published 9/13/2016. revised and updated 9/13/2018.

Psalm 106:40–48: I hope God never gets as angry with us as he did with Israel as our poet references the various invasions of Israel by the Philistines and others, which was God’s vengeance against Israel’s disobedience:
And the Lord’s wrath blazed against His people,
and He abhorred their estate.

and gave them into the hand of nations,
and their haters ruled over them.

And their enemies oppressed them,
and they were subject to their power.
 (40-42)

Assuming this psalm was written during the Babylonian exile, the poet is certainly reminding his listeners that their present state of being ruled over by their enemies—the Chaldeans—is also the result of disobedience to God.

Even though God is relentlessly merciful and and Israel continues to sin against God:
Many times did He save them.
they rebelled against His counsel
and were brought low through their misdeeds
. (43)

But again and again, God is merciful:
He saw they were in straits,
when He heard their song of prayer.
 (44)

God also reminds them of their side of the Covenant:
And He recalled for them His pact,
relented through His many kindnesses.
And He granted them mercy
in the eyes of our captors
. (45, 46)

We finally arrive at the reason our psalmist has taken us through Israel’s history. He has written again and again how Israel drifted away from God, preferring to worship false gods. But God still had mercy. As he writes, Israel is once again in dire straits and captive to another nation and as so often before, the psalmist, speaking for Israel, cries out once again for God to have mercy and restore the nation:
“Rescue us, Lord our God
and gather us from nations
to acclaim Your holy name
and to glory in Your praise.” (47)

Despite the woes that Israel has experienced, there is still reason to thank God as a joyous benediction concludes this fascinating psalm of supplication:
Blessed is the Lord God of Israel forever and ever. And all the people say: Amen, hallelujah!” (48)

So, what do we learn from this psalm besides the condensed details of Israel’s checkered history expressed in poetic form? We learn that God is indeed the God of second chances. And third, and fourth, and… Like Israel of old, our sins are great but God’s mercy is greater.

 1 Samuel 2:12–36: Eli’s sons are classic PK’s—priest’s kids. Our authors are harsh: “Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priests to the people.” (13) They provide detailed examples of the sons’ malfeasance as they steal the good meat of sacrifices and even demand, “Give meat for the priest to roast; for he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” (15) Needless to say, “the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt.” (17)

Our authors brilliantly weave the contrasting story of young Samuel into this grim narrative, including the sweet detail that “His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” (19) Eli blessed Elkanah and Hannah and as a result of this blessing, and having dedicated Samuel to God’s work, Hannah has five more children.

But this brief sunny period passes quickly and we return to the grim story of Eli’s sons. Eli makes a half-hearted plea to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people.” (23) He even tries logic: if they sin directly against God, no one will be able to intercede for them, not even their father.”But they would not listen to the voice of their father.” (25)

In the meantime, even though he was not a Levite, “the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” (26)

A “man of God,” (presumably an angel) shows up and tells Eli hav Levites were specially chosen, pointing out that priests already get “all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel.” (28) But the sons are greedy beyond even the words of an angel. As a result, even though God promised that Eli’s descendants would be priests for all time, the angel now asserts that God “will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestor’s family, so that no one in your family will live to old age.” (31) Only Eli will be left to mourn the loss of his family and the end of his family line. Moreover, as a sure sign that this is God’s action, the angel announces that the “fate of your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you—both of them shall die on the same day.” (34)

So, why does Eli receive such harsh treatment when it’s his sons that have sinned so greatly? I think that Eli has observed their wrongdoing but has been in denial—as parents so often are—excusing, perhaps even justifying their bad behavior. If nothing else, this story is a lesson that parents do indeed bear some responsibility for the behavior of their children.

Of course the other thing that’s going on here is that the authors must carefully set up how Samuel, who is not a Levite, becomes a priest of Israel.

Luke 24:1–12: We arrive at Luke’s account of the Resurrection. The women arrive, spices in hand, and find the “stone rolled away from the tomb” (2) The tomb is empty. Two angels appear and as is usual with angels, induce great fear: “The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.” (5)  Unlike most angelic visits they don’t tell the women to “Fear not” but simply announce rather brusquely, IMHO, the words that signify the hinge of history: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (5)

Luke’s angels go on to remind the women—and Luke’s community and us—that Jesus predicted all this, including “that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (7)

The women do indeed recall this and “returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” (11) Luke goes on to emphasize the crucial role of women in his account of the Resurrection and names three of them: “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James,” (10) as well as other unnamed women. In short, Luke views women as equals to the men—perhaps even greater since they are the first witnesses to the Resurrection. This certainly stands in contrast to the rules of the Old Covenant where only men could encounter God.

Something brand new is happening here.

Unsurprisingly, the women are greeted with more than a little skepticism by the disicples: “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (11) But Peter, being Peter, gets up and goes to check out the tomb for himself. Unlike John’s account (John 20:1-10) where Peter is accompanied by another disciple (probably John himself), here Luke seems to suggest that Peter went to the tomb alone.

Of course it’s these small discrepancies among witnesses that lend historical authenticity. Had all four gospel writers written exactly the same account with the same details of who went to the tomb or where the angels were or what they said we’d be pretty sure the Resurrection story was fiction. For me, the differences among the gospels only strengthen the credibility of what happened on Easter morning.

Psalm 106:32–39; 1 Samuel 1:1–2:11; Luke 23:44–56

Originally published 9/12/2016. revised and updated 9/12/2018.

Psalm 106:32–39: A major theme of this psalm is the complaining and intransigence of the Israelites that is the root cause of the bad things that happened in the wilderness and in Canaan. Of course he’s right.

Thirsty, the poet tells us, “They caused fury over the waters of Meribah,” (32a). Frustrated beyond all reason, Moses strikes the rock, “and it went badly for Moses because of them.” (32b). ‘Badly,’ of course, is God telling Moses he will not enter the promised land. The poet lets Moses partially off the hook, explaining that it was the fault of the ever-whining mob:
for they rebelled against him,
and he pronounced rash things with his lips.
” (33)

The ‘rash things’ of course being his assertion that he rather than God would cause the water to come forth. This is a great reminder that Moses was just as human as the rest of us. And how often does frustration cause us to say rash things we quickly regret?

When Israel enters Canaan they do not follow God’s explicit instructions to annihilate its inhabitants:
They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord had said to them.
 (34)

We know too well the logical consequence of this disobedience:
They mingled with the nations and learned their deed.
And they worshipped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
 (35, 36).

Our psalmist describes in detail the heathen practices that the Israelites adopted—gruesome details that I think were glossed over by the authors of Joshua and Judges:
And the sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons.
 (37)

To ensure that we fully comprehend the nature of this evil, our poet clarifies the grotesque rituals:
And they shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and their daughters
when the sacrificed to Canaan’s idols,
and the land was polluted with blood guilt.
 (38)

These are not mere lapses in judgement, rather it is the word we don’t use too much these days: an abomination to God as the poet reminds us:
And they were defiled through their deeds
and went whoring through their actions.
 (39)

We may think that our culture is superior to theirs—and in terms of protecting our living children it is. After all we don’t sacrifice our children to tin idols. But with the reality of abortion as convenience and now increasingly euthanasia, are we really morally superior to ancient Israel?

1 Samuel 1:1–2:11: The eponymous book opens with the story of the birth of Samuel. As has happened so often, the heroine of the story, Hannah, is barren even as her husband, Elkanah, “loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.”  (1:5) Hannah’s sister, Peninnah, lords it over her because she is barren. Elkanah attempts to comfort her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1:8) But Hannah is inconsolable.

Weeping bitterly, Hannah prays, and vows that if she can have a male child she will dedicate him to God’s work as a nazarite. In a detail I’d not noticed before, Hannah is moving her lips but not speaking as she prays. Talking aloud to God was de rigueur in that culture and the priest, Eli, thinks she is drunk. “But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled.” (1:15) and tells Eli she has “been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” (16) Eli reassures her that her prayer will be answered and goes away a happier woman. Hannah’s prayer is also a demonstration that God hears us even when we do not pray according to accepted convention.

In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” (20). When it’s time for the annual pilgrimage to offer sacrifices at Shiloh, she remains behind, telling Elkanah that “I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” (22). Her husband (who already has plenty of children) agrees with her plan since it will bring joy to his wife: “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.” (23) Elkanah’s words are of course prophetic.

Hannah brings Samuel to Eli and with no little joy exclaims, “Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” (28)

Hannah prays a psalm of joy and thanksgiving, which is basically a pre-echo of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke. For example, Hannah prays,
He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honor.” (2:8)

And Mary prays,
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52, 53)

Both women have been blessed by God with a son, and both women are grateful to God for answered prayer. Hannah and Elkanah return home and the reading closes with Samuel, who “remained to minister to the Lord, in the presence of the priest Eli.” (2:11)

I think Luke has intentionally used Hannah’s thanksgiving prayer to remind us that Mary’s son Jesus will be used by God in powerful ways just as we will see that Samuel was used powerfully by God in Israel.

Luke 23:44–56: Luke records the dramatic details that surround Jesus’ death: “the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” (45) Luke’s Jesus utters his last words, a public announcement about two of the three persons of the Trinity:“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (46)

In a detail recorded only here in Luke, and clearly for the encouragement of his Gentile community, we learn that “When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” (47) [And is also the basis of Lew Wallace’s famous book, and Richard Burton’s famous first movie, “The Robe”]

The spectacle over, the crowd departs, “but all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (49) Luke does not have to tell us what Jesus’ followers are feeling. This simple line is suffused with utter and total abandonment. Things had turned out so differently than the bright promise of just five days earlier. The must have been wondering how things could have gone so desperately wrong. And we wonder as they stood in silence if they recalled any of Jesus’ numerous warnings that something like this would happen.

Joseph of Arimathea, “a good and righteous man” (50) was a member of the council but “had not agreed to their plan and action.” (51a) What we rarely hear about this Joseph is that “he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.” (51b) Was he still waiting expectantly now that Jesus was dead? His actions in asking Pilate for the body and laying “it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid” (53) suggest that he had resigned himself to the reality that the kingdom of God was a chimera, but that Jesus and his ministry at least deserved a dignified ending. Would that Luke had told us Joseph’s thought when he heard about the resurrection.

Luke provides the important detail that “the women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid.” (55) Had they not observed this, the crucial events of the Resurrection may have turned out quite differently since the location of the tomb would have remained unknown. As we well know, it is the women returning to the tomb to anoint the body who become the crucial first witnesses to the miracle of Resurrection.

 

Psalm 106:24–31; Ruth 4; Luke 23:32–43

Originally published 9/10/2016. revised and updated 9/11/2018.

Psalm 106:24–31: When we read this poem that condenses the 40-year wilderness trek into a few verses, the sense of just how far from God Israel had drifted becomes dramatically clear. Our poet tells us,
And they despised the land of desires,
they did not trust His word
. (24)

This is doubtless a reference to the report of the ten spies sent into Canaan and the eight who told Moses the land was occupied by fierce tribes and recommended against attacking them. Rather than enter into Canaan trusting God would aid them,
they muttered in their tents,
they did not heed the voice of the Lord.
 (25)

For this disobedience they were condemned to wander 40 years as God,
raised His hand against them,
to make them fall in the wilderness.
 (26).

We encounter a further catalog of sins that are all described in Numbers:
And they clung to Baal Peor
and ate sacrifices to the dead.
 (28)

This apostasy against God led to the punishment of the skin diseases that arrived in the camp:
And they provoked Him through their acts,
and the scourge broke out among them,
“(29)

Today, of course, we would write that off as mere coincidence, but for Israel there is always a quid pro quo for disobedience. The peope are healed only because  of one man’s courage to pray:
Phineas stood and prayed,
and the scourge was held back
. (30)

While the psalmist refers to Phineas’ prayers, it skips over the part where he killed the idol worshippers. In fact, Phineas and his descendants come out quite well in the psalmist’s rendition:
and it was counted for him as merit,
generation to generation forever.
 (31)

Does the godly of one man carry over from generation to generation? My own view is that each generation and each person in that generation is fully responsible for his or her own relationship with God.

Ruth 4: Boaz sits down with his unnamed next-of-kin. He also arranges for “ten men of the elders of the city” (2) to sit as witnesses to what he is about to say. He tells his next-of-kin, that he has first right of refusal to acquire Naomi’s late husband’s land. Boaz tells him, “If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you.” (4).

One of the relatives announces, “I will redeem it.” (5) Cleverly, Boaz goes on to mention almost as an aside that the acquisition of the land includes acquiring Ruth the Moabite who is clearly damaged goods. This seems to scotch the deal when the relative says, “I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” (6) What goes unmentioned but is clearly understood here is that he probably believes that having a Moabite in the family is far beyond the socially acceptable pale.

Following the custom of Israel, the next-of-kin removes his sandal, hands it to Boaz and the transfer of rights to Boaz is affirmed in front of the ten witnesses. Doubtless much to the surprise of the men there, Boaz announces, “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance” (10a). While he justifies his intention as acting in “the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place,” (10b) I think there’s little question that Boaz is also deeply in love with Ruth.

The townspeople and the elders bestow a wonderful benediction on Boaz that rings down through the centuries: “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem.” (12) Needless to say, that blessing comes true some fourteen generations later in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem to a certain Mary and Joseph.

Boaz and Ruth “come together” and in a pre-echo of a descendant’s birth fourteen generations down the line, “the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son.” (13) And of course that blessing has come true not only for Israel’s greatest warrior-king, David, but more importantly, for Jesus. Moreover, since Ruth was a Gentile, we know that Jesus’ blood by birth is both for Israel and for all the world.

And in perhaps the happiest ending of any book in the Bible, “Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (16,17)

Naomi, who believed God had abandoned her, discovers that through the unstinting loyalty of a Gentile daughter-in-law, God has been there all the time. A valuable lesson for us as well.

Luke 23:32–43: We turn from the joy of Ruth and Boaz to the grimmest part of Luke’s gospel. Jesus hangs on the cross surrounded “with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (33) The religious leaders believe they have been the victors as they “scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (35) Not only the Jews ridicule Jesus, but Luke gives the Gentiles equal time as “the soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (36, 37)

For me, the two criminals—one mocking and rejecting Jesus and the other stating “this man has done nothing wrong” (41)—are Luke’s symbolic stand-ins for the entire world. In the end, it comes down to a two-alternative forced choice: accept Jesus for who he says he is or reject him outright. Place Jesus first in one’s life or place ourselves front and center. There is no serious middle ground. As much as we Christians would like to accept Jesus but still remain in personal control of our lives, that alternative is unavailable. As Oswald Chambers says over and over, we must wholly abandon ourselves to Jesus Christ—or not.