Psalm 119:113-120; 2 Samuel 22:1-25; John 11:1-16

Psalm 119:113-120: Our psalmist continues to draw a stark contrast between himself, who rightly desires God’s teaching, and those who do not: “The perverted I hated / and Your teaching I loved.” (113) Even to the point of hating them, Which is apparently OK since God apparently rejects them as well: “You spurned all who stray from Your statutes, / for their deception is but a lie.” (118)

In contrast to all those supplication psalms wherein the psalmist expresses his deep frustration and anguish that the evildoers seem to be winning the day, this poet sounds almost smug in his assurance that God will do away with them: “You spurned all who stray from Your statutes, / for their deception is but a lie. / Like dross You destroy all the earth’s wicked.” (118, 119a)

And in what seems like an odd twist of logic, God’s destruction of evildoers causes our psalmist to respond, “therefore I love Your precepts.” (119b) Really? He loves God’s Law because it eliminates evildoers? But God is God and the psalmist never forgets the immense distance betweenGod and himself: “My flesh shudders from the fear of You, / and of Your laws I am in awe.” (120)

What becomes clear here is that there is a vast gulf between God and humankind. Those who revere and follow the law understand this. God is not a comfortable idea or concept we can fit into a box of our own making. God is completely Other. We cannot tame God; we can only be in awe of God. As for those–the “evildoers”– who don’t ever think about God or consider Him to be relevant in their lives, well, for the psalmist they are merely dross that will eventually burn up.  Happily, Jesus shows up to demonstrate that God love them too.

2 Samuel 22:1-25: David’s song of thanksgiving is surely the highlight of 2 Samuel. The first verses are familiar to us because we sing them frequently albeit with some words left out…

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
   my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.

But we would do well to pay attention to the subsequent verses, as well. First there is supplication: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; / to my God I called.” (7a) And God hears the prayer: “From his temple he heard my voice, / and my cry came to his ears.” (7b)

Then God reacts in apocalyptic rage: “Then the earth reeled and rocked; / the foundations of the heavens trembled / and quaked, because he was angry.” (8) Then God comes: “He bowed the heavens, and came down; /…He rode on a cherub, and flew; / he was seen upon the wings of the wind.” (10, 11). Notice how God employs nature to make Himself known: “He made darkness around him a canopy, / thick clouds, a gathering of water.” (12).  

Then God speaks: “The Lord thundered from heaven; / the Most High uttered his voice. (14)  Appropriately for David, God is also a warrior, again described as the forces of nature: “He sent out arrows, and scattered them / —lightning, and routed them.” (15)  God hears us and responds. Perhaps not as dramatically as David’s song tells us, but God never fails to hear our cries.

As usual, the deuteronomic theme comes through loud and clear: “Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, / according to my cleanness in his sight.” (25) If we live a life that is aligned to God and God’s will, then in the words of Heschel, “The true goal for man is to be what he does.” David is our resounding example in that regard. He was completely authentic; his being was reflected in his doing before God and man.

 John 11:1-16: To say that those around Jesus were frustrated at their leader’s Big Two-Day Delay when they heard Lazarus was ill is an understatement. But as usual, John uses this event to expound on a theological theme; this time Jesus as light: “Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” (9, 10)

Jesus is speaking at two levels: the physical and himself as Light of the World. And as usual, the disciples don’t really get what Jesus is talking about, so John tells us, “Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.” (13) Then, for once, “Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” (14) And it’s clear that Jesus is going to use Lazarus’ death in some surprising new way “so that you may believe.” (16).  And so, they head back across the Jordan to Lazarus’ house in Bethany and certain trouble with the Jerusalem authorities.

Perhaps what is most intriguing in this passage is Thomas’ cryptic remark, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (16). Is Thomas talking about the inevitable collapse of Jesus’ ministry and realizes that Jesus is indeed going to die at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities? Probably. As the skeptic we later find Thomas really is, this could indeed be a resigned, almost cynical, remark. Or does Thomas have something more profound here? Does he actually understand what Jesus is about to do with regard to Lazarus?

Psalm 119:105-112; 2 Samuel 21; John 10:34-42

Psalm 119:105-112: We encounter the verse I memorized in the 5th grade at Lake Avenue Congregational Church: “Your word is a lamp to my feet / and a light to my path.” In this era of entire Bibles being available on smartphones, there probably isn’t much Bible memorization going on any more. At least there isn’t for me.

But now almost 60 years later, this verse speaks differently. Yes, it’s about God’s word, but it’s the path that resonates. When I was 10 I had no idea of the path that lay before me. Life was potential but it led into the unknown. Now, looking back, I realize what a tremendous role God’s word has played in illuminating the path of my life. Not that I haven’t strayed, especially in my 20’s. But God–and God’s word–have been there as the sure light in my journey.

I can understand why I didn’t memorize verse 109 back in 1956: “My life is at risk at all times, / yet Your teaching I do not forget.” Life turns out not to be the sure thing that a 5th grader thinks it is–in the unlikely event he even thinks about life. Our lives are at risk: not just in terms of danger or disease, but in the temptations that come our way. God’s word is indeed the beacon–the reference point– in the night. Can I say with the psalmist, “I inclined my heart to do Your statutes / forever without fail?” (112) No. Again, the psalmist speaks of something that may be hoped for, but that we cannot make happen on our own. We will indeed fail. But that’s where grace–so absent in this psalm–comes in.

2 Samuel 21: David asks God why there’s been famine for three years. God tells him, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (1) David asks the Gibeonites (who are the descendants of the Amorites) what he can do to make amends and thereby avenge the bloodguilt and end the famine. The Gibeonites demand the seven sons of Saul and David complies, excluding Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, and the “seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.” (9). David the buries the bones of the seven, along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan.

This is one of those puzzling places where we would think that having established the Law, God would not be seeking the blood of humans in order to end a famine. Israel doesn’t seem very different from its pagan neighbors in this respect and God seems to be the perpetrator. Of course, we could argue that this is a preview of Jesus taking on the bloodguilt of all of us, but for me, that’s not a very satisfying position.

The remainder of the chapter deals with fighting the Philistiines. In an eery replay of David’s encounter with Goliath,we are told, “Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. (19) Really? Another giant named Goliath? Only here we get several giants including one with 12 fingers and 12 toes. And David himself seems to have been involved again as “they fell by the hands of David and his servants.” (22)

John 10:34-42: As the Jews around him pick up their stones Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6: “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” Even though the Psalm is not technically “the Law,” and rest of the verse says, “you shall die like mortals” Jesus makes his point using scripture in an unexpected and very creative way, reminding his listeners that “the scripture cannot be annulled” (35) and neutralizing his foes, although they still tried to arrest him, he eludes capture and escapes “across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier.” (40).

As always, and even in this rather exciting incident, John does not miss an opportunity to make a theological point. Jesus says, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works,” (38, 39).  And then John’s key point ,which clearly has a different significance for John’s readers–and us–than it did for the Jews that day: “so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Clearly unconvinced and believing he is persisting in blasphemy, they try to arrest him rather than stone him.  

So, Jesus is saying in effect,”OK, rely on the evidence of the miracles I’ve performed if you guys are still skeptical of what I’m telling you.” But as Jesus says elsewhere, evidence of miracles is insufficient; faith is what’s required. And faith does not carry the day here as John shows us the undercurrents that will lead eventually to the cross.

Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Samuel 19:31-20:26; John 10:22-33

Psalm 119:97-104: Our psalmist comes close to bragging about his wisdom and understanding compared to others, although he makes it clear it is because “I loved Your teaching” (97) and he has stuck to it: “All day long it was my theme.” (97) He outlines the results of that dedication:

98 Your command makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is mine forever.
99 I have understood more than all my teachers
for Your precepts became my theme.
100 I gained insight more than the elders
for Your decrees I kept.

He asserts that he is wiser than his enemies, understands more than his teachers and has greater insight than his elders. Then, he goes on to say that he has not succumbed to temptation, “From all evil paths I held back my feet” (101), and “From Your laws I did not swerve.” (102).

But before we accuse him of lacking humility, he gives all the credit to God’s “precepts and decrees.”  Further, I think we need to view this section less as braggadocio (although there is certainly some of that), but more as a list of his objectives. Our psalmist is human and surely knows he is fully capable of failure and “swerving from Your laws.”

In short, our psalmist may not have achieved this state permanently, but recognizes that each day requires a renewed commitment. Or, at least that’s how I need to read this. Who knows, perhaps our psalmist achieved this exalted state. But for me, it continues to be a daily struggle–and a daily discipline.

2 Samuel 19:31-20:26: David shows great kindness to 80-year old Barzillai, asking him to come to Jerusalem. But Barzillai demurs and asks to meet the king “a little way over the Jordan.” David crosses the river, kisses and blesses Barzillai, who then returns home. Then David “went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him; all the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel.” (40). But the people of Israel complain, ““Why have our kindred the people of Judah stolen you away,?” (41) Now, there’s an argument between the people of Israel and the people of Judah, “But the words of the people of Judah were fiercer than the words of the people of Israel.” (43).  And here. as early as David’s time we see the first signs of what eventually became the split between Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, the Southern Kingdom.

The split becomes visible when “a scoundrel named Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite,” exploits the disagreement and “all the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri; but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.” (20:2)

War breaks out; there is an unpleasant scene between the Army’s commander, Joab, and Amasa, who has dilly-dallied in gathering the troops, causing David to observe, “Now Sheba son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom.” (20:5) Joab eviscerates Amasa for his treachery, and the Army goes to war. But before lots of killing happens, “a wise woman called from the city” to Joab, who tells him that they will toss the head of the traitor Sheba over the city wall. She talks the leaders of the city into her plan, they toss Sheba’s head over the wall and a battle is avoided. But only barely.

It’s fascinating that in this story it’s the men who rashly want to go to war, but it is a “wise woman” who avoids needless bloodshed. And once again, we have a Biblical example of female wisdom and leadership.

John 10:22-33: The Jews in Jerusalem have had enough of Jesus’ obscure speeches. “So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”” (24). Jesus responds, “I have told you, but you do not believe.” (25) and then says, “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (26) He tells them that his sheep follow him “because they know my voice.”  It’s one thing to be accused of not being a “believer” but then he really enrages the crowd with the phrase, “The Father and I are one.” (30)

This is blasphemy and they prepare to stone Jesus. His defense is simply “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” But the Jews reply they are stoning him for blasphemy rather than his good works. This is a classic case of people holding so closely and firmly to “right theology” that they ignore the good that Jesus has brought into the lives of so many. Law must trump grace.

We are exactly the same today: we hold orthodoxy as the greatest good, too often ignoring the good that has been done in Jesus’ name. For example, when we claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality and then we exclude these folks form fellowship, we are picking up the same stones as those Jews in Jerusalem. It is hewing to entrenched theology rather than showing mercy and grace that has given Christianity so much of its negative reputation today.

Psalm 119:89-96; 2 Samuel 18:31-19:30; John 10:11-21

Psalm 119:89-96: Although the psalmist predates John by hundreds of years, one is reminded of John 1:1: “Your word stands high in the heavens.” (89) There is no way the psalmist meant anything besides God’s Law when he wrote “your word,” but for John, who surely knew this psalm, this verse may have been his inspiration to transform “word” to capital-W “Word.”

Reading the OT through the lens of Jesus Christ is one of the joys of Bible reading. Yes, I know that we believe the entire scriptures point forward to God’s capital-W Word, but it’s fun to discover these small places for ourselves.

The other verse that resonates for me is the psalmist’s reference to God’s creation: “You made the earth firm and it stood. By Your laws they stand this day,” (91) For me, anyway, “Your laws” does not refer to the written laws for Israel, but to the laws of physics, which indeed hold the earth–and everything else–“firm.” As physicists delve ever deeper into creation and astronomers look ever farther into the heavens there is just no question for me that this magnificence is far, far greater than a random series of quantum events. There is evidence of God’s creative power everywhere we look.

2 Samuel 18:31-19:30: David learns that Absalom is dead, and we read the most famous words of mourning in all the Bible: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33). The troops, who had expected David to be glad that the rebellion had been put down and David would be overjoyed, instead find that “the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops;”  They are ashamed in victory and “the troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle.” (19:3)

But ever practical Joab–who has not admitted he is the one who struck down Absalom–comes to David and basically says, “Buck up, David.” pointing out that “ you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you.” (19:6) and even boldly asserts to David “You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.” (19:6), asserting that unless David makes an appearance before the troops they will desert him. David takes Joab’s advice.

There is a powerful lesson for leaders here. David was so absorbed in his own sorrow that he forgot his role as king; that he had a responsibility to those he led to encourage and build up, not drag them down. Too often, we witness leaders whose own ego needs trump their responsibility to those they lead. Like David, they feel sorry for themselves at the price of abandoning the needs of those whom they lead. This happens in politics for sure; but it also happens in churches.

John 10:11-21: Unlike the synoptics where Jesus’ parables may seem obscure, but are eventually clarified, John’s Jesus speaks in soaring metaphors of high theology. Jesus says, “ I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,” (14). OK, I get that: you’re my savior and protector and I know who you are and you know who I am. We are in relationship.

But then Jesus says immediately, “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (15) Huh? How did “my Father” get in here? Then there’s a veiled reference to his coming death and resurrection: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” And what follows is equally obscure: “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”  Once again, John is casting Jesus in his divine role as the Word who has come down form the father.

Well, John’s readers and we know what Jesus was talking about, but the people actually listening to Jesus, who have no idea what he’s talking about, seem somewhat justified to think he’s crazy and demon-possessed. But others say, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (21) And they have a point.

In the end, John is telling us, Jesus is not crazy; Jesus is so completely unexpected, so surprising, so beyond us, that we can perceive his true nature only dimly. This is what comes of Jesus being fully human and fully God. John tells us: Jesus is Word; Light; Bread of life, and now Shepherd. We simply cannot wrap our minds around this. Which is why our hearts and our faith must also be involved.

 

Psalm 119:81-88; 2 Samuel 18:1-30; John 10:1-10

 Psalm 119:81-88: One begins to notice that in this long psalm dedicated to God’s teaching and precepts that even prayers of supplication are written and asked in a didactic framework. What begins as a fairly typical supplication–“My eyes pine for Your utterance, saying, “When will You console me?”” (82) is followed immediately by the implication that he deserves rescue because \ he has not forgotten God’s law: “Though I was like a skin-flask in smoke,/ Your statutes I did not forget.” (83)

His enemies are defined not by their intrinsic evil as we find at other psalms, but that they are not following God’s law: “The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me, / which are not according to Your teaching.” (85) And our psalmist seems to be relying more on what God says or dictates than on God Himself: “All Your commands are trustworthy,” (85b). And then the central supplication, “yet I forsook not Your decrees. / As befits Your kindness give me life,” (88a) in order “that I may observe Your mouth’s precept.” (88b)

This prayer for God’s rescue so that the psalmist will be able to continue obeying God’s Law seems strange to us (well, to me anyway) who live under the terms of grace. Yet, we need to remember that following God’s law was the sworn duty, the highest calling, of every person in Israel. Of course, it is prayers like this that led to the Pharisaical outlook that life consisted of observing every jot and tittle of the Law. No wonder Jesus angered them so.

2 Samuel 18:1-30:  Absalom has gone to war against his father in order to usurp the throne. David finally responds but tells his commanders, ““Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (5). The army goes to battle and kills 20,000 of Absalom’s men. But the battle has been fought in a forest of trees with presumably low-hanging branches, “the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.”  Absalom is still alive, but as he rides through the forest on a mule(?) his neck is caught in the branches as the mule rides on. Absalom is left hanging. Joab, to whom the soldier has reported this asks why the soldier did not kill Absalom. The soldier reminds Joab that “in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom!” So Joab kills Absalom himself.

Unaware of what Joab has done, “Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run, and carry tidings to the king that the Lord has delivered him from the power of his enemies.”” But Joab denies permission and sends a Cushite to tell David about Absalom. However, Ahimazz arrives first and says he has good news, i.e., that the rebellion has been put down. David asks ““Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (29) but Ahimazz replies only that he saw a “great tumult” around Joab. David asks Ahimazz to stand and wait.

The author is brilliantly adept at building suspense here. Two messengers: the first arriving with very good news; the second has not yet arrived with very bad news. What will David’s reaction be when he finds out about Absalom? How often have we heard what seemed to be good news only to be followed shortly by bad news?

John 10:1-10: Jesus continues to use puzzling metaphors. John doesn’t tell us, but we have to believe Jesus and his disciples were standing around a sheep fold. Jesus talks about thieves climbing over the wall, but that “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.”  And that the sheep know their master’s voice and follow the shepherd, But the disciples (understandably, I think) “did not understand what he was saying to them.” (6)

So, Jesus becomes more direct: “I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” And “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” And here we have it: Jesus is the single path to salvation. All who would desire life must come through him.

But then immediately that great promise: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10) Here is Jesus’ real purpose for coming to earth: to bring life in every sense of that word. Unlike the psalmist who cries for rescue so he can continue to obey God’s Law, Jesus has come to bring abundant life through faith in him, the Good Shepherd.

I think “life” here has far deeper and greater meaning than just “eternal life” or “if we follow Jesus then we get to go to heaven.” Instead, Jesus is talking about the here and now. We find protection in Jesus–not from the vicissitudes of life itself, but in both the knowledge and reality that by passing through the “gate” that is Jesus we have something far greater than those who believe we are born, live a meaningless life and then just die. For even in difficulties and disease we are protected and will still experience a rich and meaningful life through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

 

Psalm 119:57-64: 2 Samuel 15:1-29; John 9:1-12

Psalm 119:57-64: Although the theme of this long psalm is about learning and then adhering to God’s law, there are occasional glimpses of topics that speak more to the heart than to the mind. One of those instances is here at verse 58: “I entreated You with a whole heart, grant me grace as befits Your utterance.”

The psalmist has recognized the error of his ways and realizing that, he turns back to God and asks for grace “with a whole heart.” We talk a lot about “heart” and even “whole heart.” But do reflect on its true meaning? A “whole heart” implies the totality of one’s being. There are no small, unlit corners of ourselves that we have hidden and reserved for our own purposes.

The psalmist asks for grace, raising the question that of grace is “unmerited favor” should we ask for it? The answer clearly is ‘yes,” because when we come to God with our entire being, God, whose language is grace, replies. We must remember that even with our whole heart turned toward God, we do not merit grace on our own. We cannot claim grace; it comes only in response. But I think it’s important to remember that as the psalmist reminds us here; grace comes from conversation–prayer–with God. We entreat; He replies.

 2 Samuel 15:1-29: David’s son, Absalom, mounts an outstanding PR campaign, traveling among the people of Israel, rendering judgements and he eventually “stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” (6) He then goes to Hebron and declares himself king. When David hears of his son’s treachery, he flees Jerusalem, knowing that Absalom will return to murder him.  All the court officials go with him, as well as a visitor, Ittai, who is “a foreigner, and also an exile from your home.” (16) David says Ittai should remain in Jerusalem and await the new king, but the visitor replies, ““As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be.” (19).

Ittai remains loyal even as the king is usurped by his son. As Jesus is led off to be tried and crucified, there is no Ittai among the disciples. The question is the same for us today: when Christ-followers are in harms way or facing trials in hostile societies, are we like Ittai and stand by their side? Or do we abandon our king?

John 9:1-12: John’s theme of light surfaces again in this story of the blind man healed. First, Jesus makes it clear that neither the man nor his parents are to blame for his condition. This is radical thinking in this deuteronomic cause=effect society.

It’s interesting that Jesus gives his disquisition before he heals the man: “ As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (5) So, if Jesus is all about light and making sure we understand that, why does he prepare mud and put it in the blind man’s eyes when he could have just said something like, “I am the light, now see the light: you’re healed?” I believe that John never misses an opportunity to make a symbolic point. Mud is of the earth; he covers the man’s eyes as if to say, in earth you are blind, but by baptism, i.e., washing in the pool, you–all of us–who once were blind not only see the light, but live in the light.

Psalm 119:41-48; 2 Samuel 13:1-33; John 8:31-41

Psalm 119:41-48: The section deals with speaking God’s word in a hostile environment. Our psalmist is asking God “rescue as befits Your utterance,” in order “that I may give answer to those who taunt me, / for I have trusted in Your word.” These verses seem apt in today’s environment where Christians are increasingly viewed by the “tolerant” world as misguided at best and intolerant bigots at worst.

The recent case of two ministers in Idaho being required to perform same-sex marriages at their wedding chapel business or face onerous fines is a case in point. Regardless of whether one agrees with the idea of a wedding “business,” their interpretation of what the Bible has to say about marriage, or whether this is an abrogation of their first amendment rights, they are certainly being forced to speak—and attempt to stand by— God’s word in an antagonistic environment.

This couple’s prayers must certainly include “And let me speak of Your precepts before kings without being shamed.” (46). Can they withstand the pressure of a supposedly tolerant government or society? Will they continue to be able to speak God’s word without being shamed?

Of course the more relevant question here is, could I speak of God’s precepts before kings?

2 Samuel 13:1-33: The author of this book makes sure we understand the implications of Nathan’s prediction after David took Bathsheba from Uriah: “I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house” (12:11) by following immediately with the disturbing story of Ammon’s rape of his sister, Tamar.

Tamar becomes obsessed with his (half) sister, Tamar, and his desire to have sex with her is enabled by his devious friend, Jonadab. A ruse that Ammon is ill brings his sister Tamar to Ammon; he invites her to feed him and despite Tamar’s protests that “such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile!” (13:12) he rapes her and she flees in shame, her life ruined.

Ammon’s reaction to the incestuous rape is proof that human nature has not changed one whit in the thousands of years that have passed. Having raped her, he now detests Tamar, the living symbol of his evil act, and banishes her. Tamar’s brother Absalom hides Tamar, now “a desolate woman” in his house. David hears of the rape, but refuses to punish Ammon “ because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.” (13:21)

Absalom waits two years and finally has his revenge on Ammon by having him killed. Tragedy has surely visited David and his family. The consequences of David’s inaction in punishing Ammon are not only ruined lives of his children, but losing the son he loves most.

Did God carry out this punishment? No. David’s punishment arises strictly from consequences of evil acts and failure to act on those evil acts at the earliest possible moment. Ignoring evil and just hoping it will somehow “go away” is a fool’s errand. And David has been enormously foolish here. Yet, variations of this tragic story echo down through the centuries.

John 8:31-41: This section includes a phrase famously taken out of context: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (32). Jesus does not just say, “the truth will make you free” as the motto of many universities would have it.

There are three conditions that precede Jesus’ assertion about truth and freedom. One: We are to continue in “my word,” i.e., believe what Jesus is telling us; a tall order indeed. And “continue” is important here. Belief is not just a one-time event, but a lifelong process. Two: if we believe, then we are Jesus’ disciples, an obligation to follow Jesus, which is a challenging task indeed. Three: we will then know God’s truth, the Truth that is Jesus Christ. And it is that singular truth—not some abstract “truthiness”—that sets us free from the consequences of our sinful nature.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on how he is at the center of this intimate relationship of truth and freedom in his disquisition on slavery and freedom. There is only one way to freedom through truth and that is via Jesus, the Son of God the Father: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (36) This is certainly a very different Truth than the “truth” that the world thinks it is seeking.

Psalm 119:33-40; 2 Samuel 12; John 8:12-30

Psalm 119:33-40: The theme of this long psalm, repeated through each section, is about both the benefits and obligations of studying God’s Law–which for us heirs of the New Covenant we extend to the Bible as a whole, OT and NT: “Instruct me, LORD, in the way of Your statutes, / that I may keep it without fail.” (33).

But this is far more than instruction or rote memorization. The verse that strike a chord for me is 34: “Give me insight that I may keep Your teaching / and observe it with a whole heart.” The psalmist asks for insight, which is key. Our obligation in studying God’s word is not merely knowledge. We are not asking God to become masters of Bible Trivia or winning “Sword drills.”

Understanding the meaning of the words and ideas is certainly required. But here, the psalmist asks for more: insight. The dictionary defines ‘insight’ as “an instance of apprehending the true nature of a thing, especially through intuitive understanding.” In other words, we are seeking to comprehend the “true nature” of what we are studying.

It seems to me that a key part of that comprehension of “true nature” requires understanding–and accepting–context. Which is why we need to be skeptical of accepting the assertions of people who rattle off lists of verses to justify their position, which they have usually adopted before, rather than after, studying God’s Word. This seems particularly true in trying to apply OT rules and regulations to the modern society in which we live. Far too many assertions absent insight seem to be rattling around.

2 Samuel 12: After committing adultery, and the great sin of sending Uriah to his death in battle, David has taken Uriah’s wife Bathsheba for his own, who has borne a son. Chapter 11 ends with the ominous statement, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” Nathan comes to the king, and telling David what I take to be a parable of a sheep stolen from a poor man by a rich man, David reacts, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” (5)

David doesn’t get the parable and Nathan responds, ““You are the man!” and a few verses down, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (9) And then the ominous promise, “Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.” (11) The child David has sired by Bathsheba dies. 

As the subsequent history of the kings of Israel proves, Nathan’s prophecy is an effective means for the authors of 2 Samuel to demonstrate the roots of the centuries of trouble that eventually led to the decimation of the northern kingdom and the exile of the southern.

But can we lay the history of Israel at David’s feet? Bathsheba is also Solomon’s mother, so it seems that a blessing also arises from David’s sin. That’s why we need to be careful about asserting that when something bad happens, that it was something God has ordained because of our sin. Where great sin has occurred, there are woeful consequences, but God is still merciful.

John 8:12-30: Unlike the Synoptics, John explores the relationship between Jesus and the Father (never “God”) in great depth. What Jesus says is understandable from this side of the Upper Room Discourse and the Cross, but it had to be completely befuddling to the Pharisees. Jesus talking about two people being required to testify and then saying, “ I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” (18) is puzzling enough. But then he says, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (19) Huh?

We understand that John is describing aspects of the Trinity, and he introduces the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse.  But at this point, I have to believe the Pharisees did not have Jesus arrested because they really had no basis on which to pin a clear charge of blasphemy. They must have stood there with confused looks on their faces: What Jesus was saying was profound but impenetrable to even the brightest among them. John is certainly helpful on this point when he says, “They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.” (27)

The same goes for John’s foretaste of Jesus’ death when Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.” The significance of this prediction of being “lifted up” on the cross is understood only after the fact. Yet, so compelling was Jesus as personality that even if the precise meaning of his words were not clear, John tells us, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” (30).

Even though we now understand retrospectively what Jesus was talking about, I think John is also telling us that we can believe in Jesus even without fully understanding him. Given that John was writing around the time the Gnostics began claiming that the way to spiritual enlightenment was by understanding “secret knowledge,” Joh is telling us that the way to Jesus is not through fully understanding “high theology” but simply believing that what Jesus is say, and who he is is Truth enough.

Psalm 119:17-24; 2 Samuel 8,9; John 7:45-52

Psalm 119:17-24: Verse 18 certainly summarizes why I value Bible study so highly: “Unveil my eyes that I may look / upon the wonders of Your teaching.” I’m sure this verse is also a silent prayer that every theology student in the land has prayed one time or the other.

The “wonders of Your teaching” is also why each time I come across the same passage—such as this one—that there is always something new, a different angle, a fresh perspective on Scripture. For me, that is what “inspired by the Holy Spirit” means. It’s not that the words themselves are somehow sacred or inerrant, but that the Holy Spirit speaks fresh thoughts and gives new insights each time we read and ponder Scripture. In my personal experience this does not happen with any other book.

However, I’m not sure I go as far as the psalmist here: “I pine away desiring / Your laws in every hour.” Do I pine away in desire? Probably not, but there’s no question at this point that the mornings when I do not settle down with the Moravian readings, read, reflect and write are emptier. 

2 Samuel 8,9: David goes about the business of conquering neighboring lands—Philistia, Moab, even up to Damascus—and building what would become the empire over which his son Solomon would reign. The authors make it clear who deserves credit for David’s victories: “The Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. “ (8:6) David continues to acknowledge God as the author of his victories as he brings home the “articles of silver, gold, and bronze; [which] these also King David dedicated to the Lord, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued.” (8:10, 11)

Unlike Saul, who began to believe his victories were his and not God’s, David never forgets the source of his strength and his victories. It would have been very easy for him to go the way of Saul. After all, “David won a name for himself.” (13). But he remains humble and a man of God.

The lesson for us is that whatever victories we may enjoy in life are not ours alone, and we must never forget Who is the source of our strength or our intellect.

The heartwarming story of David’s great mercy and generosity to Jonathan’s crippled son, Mephibosheth, shows the other side of David’s greatness. The authors make sure we understand that David is far more than a military genius and a fierce warrior, “for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always.” (9:7) David is equally generous to Saul’s servant Ziba, as well. Mercy and generosity are as important a quality of leadership as intellect, courage, and strategic cunning. 

One wonders why the bookstore shelves groan with books on leadership when all the lessons are right here.

John 7:45-52: The Temple police, who were sent to arrest Jesus, come back empty-handed, angering the authorities who accuse them, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you?” (47). The Pharisees then self-righteously ask themselves, “Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?” (48) John does not answer their rhetorical question, but we can see their noses up in the air as they dismiss the hoi polloi, who do not know the law as well as they do. To them, Jesus is simply an unwashed rabble-rouser from the outback of Galilee.

But then one of their own, the unacknowledged hero of John’s gospel, Nicodemus, steps forward  and asks, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (51) In many ways, Nicodemus is the narrative voice of John, who is always there to ask the pointed question, and give John the opportunity to create insightful dialog. Here, the Pharisees sidestep Nicodemus’s theological insight by saying nowhere is it written in the Scripture that a prophet will arise out of Galilee. End of discussion.

Yet we—and John’s readers—know that’s exactly what happened. Neither Jesus nor God followed the script the Pharisees had assigned to them. There is always the unexpected—God’s surprise.

And I think this is a warning to those, who like the Pharisees, over-interpret the Bible and assert that “the Bible says this” or “that can’t happen because the Bible says it won’t.” One thinks of the people who keep predicting the precise date of Jesus’ return. The pHarisees are the perfect example of trying to fit God into the small box of their own design. We need to always let God be God, Jesus be Jesus, and be prepared for a surprise.

Psalm 119:9-16; 2 Samuel 7; John 7:25-44

Psalm 119:9-16: This is where we find the verse that I memorized in fifth grade Sunday School atLake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena: “I treasure your word in my heart, / so that I may not sin against you.” (119:11) Well, actually, I can still remember the KJV version that I actually memorized: “I will hide your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” But now that I am old, it’s verse 9 that resonates: “How can young people keep their way pure? / By guarding it according to your word.” In other words, we align our behavior to God’s word.

Which is also why delivering even a casual acquaintance with Biblical truths would seem to be a fundamental aspect of parenting–and of the church. Is there a guarantee that knowing,  understanding, and accepting the rules of virtue as laid out in the Bible will lead to moral behavior? Probably not, but the absence of knowledge of God’s truth does not create an auspicious beginning of adulthood. As witness society around us.

Then, “I delight in the way of your decrees” followed by “I will meditate on your precepts” followed by “I will delight in your statutes;” (vv 14-16) is fascinating. I’d never noticed the juxtaposition of “delight” and “meditate.”  This certainly says that meditation on God’s law and truths is never an onerous task, but a delight. The question, is, do I red and reflect a duty, or because it is something I look forward to each day?

2 Samuel 7: There is peace at last in Israel and David observes to Nathan that while he has a “house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” (2). Nathan goes off and asks God the big question about “a house” and receives the reply, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (12,13)

So why couldn’t David build the Temple? One simple reason is that this is history being written hundreds of years after David and Solomon and the authors simply fit history into a retrospective view of God’s plan. The other reason could be that David is the warrior; Solomon is the builder. Whatever the reason, the message to us–and one that Jesus makes clear when he’s talking about working in the Kingdom and on which Paul elaborates several times–is that each of us has a role to play according to our gifts and talents, and the Kingdom prospers when we work according to our gifts.

David accepts this and in his marvelous prayer, he says what we all should be saying, “O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.” David never second-guessed God. Would that I can do the same.

John 7:25-44: John is far more open than the Synoptics as he describes the public reaction to the question of whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Like modern elections, it sounds as if opinion was pretty evenly split. In an effort to maintain theological order, the Pharisees attempt to have him arrested (for heresy, we presume), but while John does not say directly, Jesus is able to avoid arrest presumably because half the crowd believed he was the Messiah.  Jesus doesn’t seem to help matters as he sounds more cryptic than ever: “You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” (34).

This statement causes some to wonder, “Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?” (35) Which to John’s readers/ listeners is a direct reference to them, since they know that Jesus indeed came to speak to the Greeks (gentiles) as well as the Jews.

There is enormous confusion because of Jesus’ origins. Some know that he comes from Bethlehem from the line of David, but others note that he comes from the outback of Galilee. Others believe the real Messiah would “ do more signs than this man has done.”

The lesson here seems to be that we must accept what Jesus says on faith. He is from God and we are not; therefore, we will not understand him on our own intellectual power. Even when he stood there physically, people could not understand what he was really about. How much more so for John’s listeners and for us?