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?

Psalm 118:22-29; 2 Samuel 3:35-5:16; John 7:1-13

Psalm 118:22-29: Verse 22 has enormous significance to us Christians: “The stone that the builders rejected / has become the chief cornerstone,” because Jesus himself makes it clear in all three synoptic gospels that he is indeed that cornerstone. And that he was indeed rejected by the “builders.”

Jesus did not quote the next two verses, but they are certainly worth reflection. Verse 23: “From the LORD did this come about— it is wondrous in our eyes.” Certainly his listeners knew this verse as well as the preceding one. There could be no escaping Jesus’ claim that he came directly from God–which John of course makes clear in his first chapter. Moreover, this fact is something that is “wondrous to our eyes.” The question is, do I, as the old song has it, think about “the wonder of it all?”

And then as if “wondrous to our eyes” is insufficient, the psalmist says “This is the day the LORD has wrought./ Let us exult and rejoice in it.” We hear this verse a lot and I had always thought it referred to days in general; something we should say every morning as we awake. That for sure, but in it’s context here, it has even greater significance: God has created the day of salvation through Jesus Christ, the rejected cornerstone. And that is indeed something to celebrate every day.

2 Samuel 3:35-5:16: Following Saul’s death, there was an extensive battle for power between the parties of Saul and those of David. Abner defects to David, but is assassinated by Joab and David makes it clear he is innocent of that crime. When Saul’s son Ishbaal hears this, “his courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed.” (4:1). Then a couple of military leaders, Rechab and Baanah, assassinate Ishbaal, while he lays in his tent. The assassins are brought to David, who reminds the two that when the messenger brought news of Saul’s death to him, David had him killed for bringing such awful news that the messenger mistakenly thought to be good news.  (Whence, “kill the messenger.”) Rechab and Baanah meet the same fate. So once again, people who thought they were doing David a favor are reminded that they cannot take matters into their own hands that which God has ordained. David never failed to respect and honor Saul as his king. This is a mark of his remarkable leadership–and something to reflect on when a president denigrates his predecessor.

The leaders of Israel have had enough of the warfare and they come to David, saying “For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” (5:2) Two key realities here: First, David is acknowledged for his superior leadership and the people are anxious to be led by “David his ten thousands.” Second, and more crucially, the leaders recognize that God has chosen David “be shepherd of my people Israel.” So, David is both king and in effect, God’s representative on earth. This is why the connection between David and Jesus is so important: for Jesus is both our king and our intercession to God Himself.

John 7:1-13: John tells us something about Jesus that the Synoptics do not: Jesus had brothers. But his brothers thought he was wacko, and fearing for their local reputation of being the brothers of a mad man, they suggested that Jesus take his mission and the motley crowds following him down to Judea. For their trouble, Jesus tells his  brothers rather mysteriously, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.” We know what “my time is not yet come” means, but I’m pretty sure this statement only cemented his brother’s opinion that the older brother had lost his marbles.

So, why does John tell us about the brothers? I think it’s for the same reason that Jesus says stuff about “hating your mother” in the synoptics. In that society where one’s identity as established solely by one’s family and roots, Jesus is telling them (and us) that family is secondary to the central mission of working in the Kingdom.  And of course it tells us that following Jesus will split families apart. Which has certainly been the case down through history.

Psalm 117; 1 Samuel 30,31; John 6:25-42

Psalm 117: This shortest psalm (also the shortest chapter in the Bible) summarizes God’s two fundamental qualities succinctly: “His kindness overwhelms us, /and the LORD’s steadfast truth is forever.” Think about it for a moment: God’s kindness is not just a nice thing; it overwhelms us. We are bowled over by God’s blessings–even in the midst of trial. The secret of course, is sometimes knowing where to look.

And God’s truth transcends time and space. Truth exists independent of anything we humans can construct. It cannot be confined into a box of our making. That’s why even those who profess to believe God does not exist still hold to some semblance of virtue and morality. God’s truth is built into the structure of our existence.

1 Samuel 30,31: David and his men come to Ziklag only to discover that the Amalekites had razed it, burned it to the ground and carried off all its women and treasure. David pursues them and with information given to them by an Egyptian (!) servant left for dead by the Amalekites, David and 400 men pursue, find, and kill them all. The women and treasure are recovered, including David’s two wives.

As the party heads home, they come back to 200 Israelites, who had not gone down to fight because they were “too exhausted to cross the Wadi Besor.” David’s men refuse to hand over a share of the booty to these men because they had not joined the battle. But David tells them, “For the share of the one who goes down into the battle shall be the same as the share of the one who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.” (30:24) As the author points out, this practice of share and share alike “continues to the present day.”  Speaking as a guy who was support staff in the military, it’s reassuring to know that those who stay behind and support the battle front are equal in stature to those who actually fight. And that it is here with David where that practice began.

Saul’s three sons, including Jonathan, are killed in battle with the Philistines. Saul, in despair asks his armor-bearer to run him through with his sword, but the man refuses. Saul then falls on his own sword and kills himself.

What happens next is gruesome. The Philistines cut off his head and “they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.” (31:10) But when “ the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan.” (31:11, 12) They burn the bodies and bury the bones and mourn for 7 days. To this day, the US Army follows the same practice: “No man left behind.”  So, while Saul was outside the Lord’s favor because he took things into his own hands, he is nevertheless buried with dignity and honor.

John 6:25-42: The crowds find Jesus at Capernaum and Jesus tells them are looking for him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (26) The quest for a free lunch goes back a long way! Then, as usual, John becomes deeply theological, as Jesus says “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (29). The key point here is that it is God and “God’s work” that brings belief in Jesus. This is far different than our human attempts to find God or Jesus via intellectual exertion. It also says to me that attempts to “prove God’s existence” are ultimately futile because belief comes from God, not from our logic.

Jesus then makes his famous statement, ““I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (35). This metaphor is mind-blowing to the crowd. Jesus, this admittedly charismatic teacher can satisfy our daily physical needs? Actually, it’s a pretty mind-blowing metaphor for us because Jesus is referring to spiritual hunger and thirst. For John, the feeding of the 5000 is a giant metaphor; an object lesson, a children’s sermon, about how Jesus can fill our spiritual craving. That famous “God-shaped” hole in our hearts.

But this is abstract for us even though we know the whole story. Imagine how it was for the crowd listening to him. John once again makes his implicit point to his listeners–and us, his readers–that even eyewitnesses won’t necessarily believe– “I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”–what about those of us who have never seen Jesus?  Will we accept who Jesus is what he says he is on faith, or will we join the skeptical crowd that says, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (42)

Belief is the work of God, but we have the responsibility to accept that belief as God’s gift–to recognize that Jesus is indeed who he says he is. Even when it sounds very strange to us, as it certainly did to the Jews at Capernaum.

Psalm 116:15-19; 1 Samuel 28,29; John 6:16-24

Psalm 116:15-19: This section of the psalm is about the psalmist’s goal to come to the Temple at Jerusalem and to complete the act of gratitude he promised he would do if God would rescue him: “My vows to the LORD I shall pay / in the sight of all His people.” (14)

God rescued him and now he is here to fulfill his vow in public. The next verse–“Precious in the eyes of the LORD / is the death of His faithful ones.”–suggests that he may have been the only survivor among a group of people, and he is here to give thanksgiving not only for his personal rescue, but also to remember those who perished.

In addition to the psalmist’s gratitude and generosity in remembering others, there is great humility as well: “I am Your servant, Your handmaiden’s son./ You have loosed my bonds.” This is no proud king, but he has the humility of the poor man praying off in the corner whom Jesus compared to the prideful Pharisee praying in public.

Nevertheless, this is a highly public act of thanksgiving, as he reiterates, “My vows to the LORD I shall pay / in the sight of all His people.” (18) Because when there is thanksgiving, it is good for everyone to be able to rejoice. Just as the father celebrated in the story of the Prodigal Son when his son was restored to him.

In sum, this is a description of our attitude when we pray in thankfulness: gratitude, generosity, humility–all leading to a party! As the last line of this psalm puts so well: “Hallelujah!”

1 Samuel 28,29: The Philistines gather for another battle with Israel. Saul tries to get God’s word on what to do butSamuel is dead and unavailable for consultation. Also, “the Lord did not answer him, not by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets” and Saul had already done away with the mediums in Israel (which actually sounds like one of Saul’s few good ideas). But now he’s desperate and his servants bring him word about the medium of Endor (I always liked the King James here: “the witch of Endor”). After some difficulty getting her to cooperate, the dead Samuel delivers really bad news: Saul and his sons will die in battle.

Saul is rightly terrified, “Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel; and there was no strength in him,” (28:20). I suspect that Saul knows in his heart that having rejected God, God has now rejected him. These stories in the OT definitely have the non-grace side of God on full display. (And I wonder what inerrantists do with this passage since in the main, they are not terribly open to witchcraft, calling up spirits of the dead and the like…)

Meanwhile, David is spotted by the marching Philistines with his protector King Achish. Achish plans to send David to fight Israel on the Philistine side, but the generals of the Philistine army soundly reject David on the grounds that he is a famous Philistine slayer and could easily turn against them. Achish tells David to “go back now; and go peaceably; do nothing to displease the lords of the Philistines.” (29:7) But David wants to fight on the Philistine side and argues with Achish using his now famous line,”But what have I done?” Eventually, though, David agrees and returns to Philistia.

So, what on earth are the authors thinking here? Why show David–Israel’s greatest hero– eager to fight for Israel’s enemy? One reason is that it shows David’s warrior spirit. But another may be that in some ways David transcends the boundaries of Israel. If we read this story through the lens of Jesus Christ, then David being larger, even greater than just Israel is a precursor of Jesus having come for everyone, not just the Jewish people.

John 6:16-24: John tells the story of Jesus walking on the water in the sparsest possible terms. No Peter walking on water, no lesson about looking at Jesus. Just that the disciples were understandably terrified of seeing Jesus strolling along on the stormy waters. The only words we hear Jesus speak are, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (20). Period. Amen. They pull Jesus into the boat and “immediately” arrive at Capernaum.

John tells us the crowd is desperate to find Jesus, “they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” (24) Why this detail? Well, knowing John, he has a greater purpose here. Jesus seems to have disappeared, but so great is his attraction that people naturally search for him. Just as we are naturally attracted to Jesus even though his is unlike anyone we have ever encountered before in our lives. But his differentness is no reason to fear him. He has simply said to his disciples and to us, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Psalm 116:8-14; 1 Samuel 26,27; John 6:1-15

Psalm 116:8-14: After his great trauma, the psalmist asks, “Return, my being, to your calm, for the LORD has requited you.” (7) In the great busyness of our quotidian lives, it is far too easy to forget that we can find great peace and tranquility in God. God is not just Rescuer, He is Rest and Refreshment.

Once we are rested, we can resume our lives in the world, “I shall walk before the LORD in the lands of the living.” (9). And we can reflect back on our time of trial and say, “Oh, I was sorely afflicted— I in my rashness said, ‘All humankind is false.'” (11) This is a perfect description of the anger and frustration that arises out of a time of trial. I remember when I was first diagnosed with cancer that deep down, I wanted to blame someone, or as the psalmist implies here, everybody.

But now, in the arms of my rescuing God, I too am prepared to say, “What can I give back to the LORD for all He requited to me?” (12) And I’m sure that giving back to God is the psalmist’s way of saying “pay it forward.” I have been rescued by God, so God can work through me as I come along others who are in the dire straits I knew only recently.

1 Samuel 26,27: In this famous encounter, David has the opportunity once again to kill Saul, who in his monomaniacal obsession continues to pursue David. Standing over the head of the sleeping king, David resists the temptation, realizing Saul’s fate is in God’s hands, not his: “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him down; or his day will come to die; or he will go down into battle and perish.” (26:10). He takes Saul’s spear and water jar and retreats.

The next morning, David shouts across the valley to Saul’s guard, Abner, accusing him dereliction of duty. Saul hears the commotion, comes out and David asks the king almost plaintively, ““Why does my lord pursue his servant? For what have I done? What guilt is on my hands?” (26:19). A seemingly contrite Saul replies, “I have done wrong; come back, my son David, for I will never harm you again, because my life was precious in your sight today; I have been a fool, and have made a great mistake.” (26:21).  David replies, “As your life was precious today in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord,” (26:24).

Notice that this is not a quid pro quo: David does not say, “may my life be precious in your sight, Saul” but he is laying his fate in the hands of God. The author’s message is clear: it is God who is protecting David because David, unlike Saul, is following the Lord. At some deep level Saul seems to understand this and he tells David, ““Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” (26:25)

David knows he is protected by the Lord, but he nevertheless wisely elects to stay out of Saul’s presence, knowing that the mercurial king could turn on him in a trice. He heads There’sKing Achish of Gath, and remains there for a year and 4 months. There is real wisdom for us here. Yes, like David, we should rely on God to protect us, but we should also use our common sense and refrain from placing ourselves in potentially lethal –or even abusive–situations–especially around people like Saul who say things that are shortly betrayed by their actions.

John 6:1-15: In John’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus asks Philip directly, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” And John, ever the great explainer, tells us, “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do” (6) But Philip doesn’t know this is a test.

We can empathize with Philip’s distress when he says, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” I’m sure he’s thinking, “Jesus is a wonderful guy; he may indeed be the Messiah, but he really has no idea of how the real world works.”  Philip is all of us. We think that Jesus is going to engage the world the way we all do. And that he would at least have common sense.

But we can never forget that John’s Jesus will always be doing the unexpected. Be it turning water into wine, conversing with a sinful Samaritan woman or now, asking a seemingly dumb question of Philip. Like Philip, we want to put Jesus into the box of our own experience, our own perspective on the world. But Jesus cannot be contained in our comfortable little boxes. He’s always going to be asking us seemingly innocent questions that open up a whole new way of seeing things.  For John, the feeding of the 5000, as wonderful as it was, is not his point. John’s point is that if we’re going to follow Jesus we have to think–and act– in entirely new ways.

Psalm 116:1-7; 1 Samuel 25:18-44; John 5:31-47

Psalm 116:1-7: This beautiful gentle psalm is a straightforward song of thanksgiving. We know immediately the heart of the poet: “I love the LORD, for He has heard / my voice, my supplications.” (1) Can there be a greater sense of gratitude than to have the assurance that God has indeed heard our prayer?

The psalmist’s thankfulness arises because God has brought him out of a dark place that threatened death, “The cords of death encircled me /—and the straits of Sheol found me— / distress and sorrow did I find.” (3) This is not mere poetic hyperbole, but we sense true desperate straights–an event that actually happened to the poet.

Perhaps what is most remarkable here is the simplicity of the prayer itself, whcih the poet records word-for-word: “And in the name of the LORD I called.  ‘LORD, pray, save my life.'” (4) Five simple words: no elaboration, no thanksgiving before supplication, no rolling phrases about God’s power and majesty; just five desperate words. The lesson here is clear: there is no situation so perilous that we cannot simply shout out. God does not require a lengthy preamble. He gets our situation without us having to explain it to him.

There is also enormous humility here: “The LORD protects the simple. / I plunged down, but me He did rescue.” (6) No matter what our personal status is; we are protected just as much as the most famous leader. One can imagine the poet writing this as a personal note of thanks. Like Psalm 23, there is a one-to-one connection to God here that reminds us just how close God can be when we are in trouble.

1 Samuel 25:1-44: Nabal, “surly and mean,” has insulted David by refusing to give him and his men any food, even though he is wealthy and has plenty to give. David, not exactly the self-effacing shepherd boy, but fierce warrior tells his men ““Every man strap on his sword!” (12) and plans to seek revenge for this unforgivable act of failure to provide hospitality. A “young man” comes and warns Nabal’s wife, Abigail, who loads donkeys with plenty of sustenance for David and his men. She manages to find David, bows down before him and says, ““Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt.” (24) and a few verses later, “Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house” (28). In short, Abigail is willing to take the sins of her husband on to herself.

It is not a stretch of imagination to see in Abigail and her willingness to pay with her life for the sis of another the same act of Jesus, who takes on our sins.

David relents, telling her “ Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt” (30). Abigail returns to a very drunken Nabal and waits until the next day to tell him what she did. The author doesn’t tell us what she said to her husband, but he immediately has a heart attack –“his heart died within him; he became like a stone” (37)–and dies. David is pretty happy about this, woos Abigail, and takes her as one of his wives.

Once again, we have a woman hero in the Bible: one who is willing to put her life on the line–and here for an obvious injustice because she is completely innocent. She is certainly an excellent example of the person who would willingly give up her life for another–even one like Nabal who so obviously deserved his fate.

John 5:31-47: Our gospel writer cannot resist any opportunity to underscore the point that Jesus is God’s Word. When John the Baptist’s ‘messengers’ ask exactly who Jesus claims to be, he replies with a theological treatise, “The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.” (36). In other words, Jesus’ works are the evidence that he is God’s (whom no one has seen, Jesus is quick to point out) Word. And as Jesus makes clear, “you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.” (38) God does not dwell in the hearts of those who refuse to believe Jesus and his testimony. Case closed.

But John’s Jesus never misses an opportunity to elaborate and tells them they are looking in the wrong place: “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” (39). This is a remarkable statement because up to that point, Jews had no other source of knowing God–and here Jesus is standing in front of them and they don’t believe him; they’d rather stick with John the Baptist.

It’s easy to judge those messengers since they had Jesus standing in front of them and we don’t. Yet, many Christians are doing exactly the same thing as they when they become so obsessed with the Bible, trying to convince others that it’s the inerrant word of God; that it’s the Christian’s “handbook,” that they often miss the Matthew 25 Jesus who is standing right in front of them.

Of course this is also the passage that reminds us that the OT points directly to Jesus, “ If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (46). I can hear the sharp intake of breath on the part of the Baptist’s followers at that one.


Psalm 115:1-8; 1 Samuel 23; John 5:1-15

Psalm 115:1-8: The psalmist knows that it is God who gave the victory, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us /but to Your name give glory/ for Your kindness and Your steadfast truth.” (1)

Then, the psalm draws a neat contrast between Israel and the surrounding nations it has just conquered. The conquered nations wonder “where is their God?,” who unlike their physical idols does not seem to be anywhere. The psalmist, along with the rest of Israel knows, “our God is in the heavens— all that He desired He has done.” (3) In other Israel’s God acts from afar and remains invisible.

This psalm reveals just how different God is from all those small-g gods: “Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man,” (4) and as a result are powerless because they lack all the senses and are implicitly dead. They may have mouths, but cannot speak; “eyes” but cannot  see; ears, but cannot hear; feet but cannot walk.

Such are the idols, the little gods that are the handiwork of man, while men–men who can conquer nations–are the handiwork of Israel’s God. A revolutionary concept then, and now as society abandons God to create its own inanimate small-g gods that in the end are completely powerless. These gods have fancier names or seem invisible such as “new age” spirituality that insists that “god is within us.” But as our own self-centered creations they are just as powerless–and just as dead.

1 Samuel 23: This chapter underscores again and again how close David was to God. He asks if he should go to war: “David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (2) God tells him ‘yes,’ but his men are afraid, so David asks God if he will have a victory and again, God answers, ““Yes, go down to Keilah; for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” (4) and the victory is theirs.  Then as Saul pursues David, he comes to God again, “And now, will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, I beseech you, tell your servant.” (11) And again God answers, and he escapes to the hill country where “Saul sought him every day, but the Lord did not give him into his hand.” (14)

The authors are clear: David is connected to God, unafraid to ask direct questions and Daivd is protected by God. Saul says things like “God has given him into my hand;” (7) but Saul has never spoken to God. We can say “God has done this” or “God has done that,” but if like Saul we actually never ask God directly then we are blinded and confused by our own religiosity.

David and Jonathan are reunited and Saul’s son says, “Saul shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be second to you; my father Saul also knows that this is so.” (17) Now we know for sure: Saul “knows this is so” and is so consumed by the jealous rage that David will overthrow him that he knows he must kill David first.

Saul is the archetype of the leader who does not follow God but follows his own fears, consumed by jealousy of someone obviously greater than oneself. These people are so self-centered, so unaware of God that they would rather bring down the kingdom than to accede power. Unfortunately, the history of Israel and all the history ever since tells us that Sauls are always around.

John 5:1-15: Jesus heals the lame man at the Pool of Bethsaida. But again, John has a different take on these miracles than his synoptic peers. Jesus does not just run up to the man, touch him and say, “You’re healed.” Instead he asks the crucial question: “Do you want to be made well?” (4) The man replies affirmatively, and offers proof of that by telling Jesus he can never get to the pool fast enough. Satisfied, Jesus then tells him to get up and walk.

There is something crucial happening here: we must first answer Jesus question whether or not we may wish to be healed. This may seem obvious, yet there are many people today that really do not wish to be healed, but would rather play the victim. Like the man at the pool we must first answer the question. Do we really want to be rescued and transformed from lame to ambulatory by Jesus’ power? And many will say ‘no.’

The Pharisees are unhappy about Jesus doing the work of healing on the Sabbath. Rather than a debate, though, John uses the device of the healed man carrying his mat to raise their ire. As far as the healed man is concerned, being healed trumps obeying the law of the Sabbath. John, in his usual indirect way, is telling us that Jesus trumps the established rules, just as Jesus’ work in Samaria trumped the preconception of Jews being exclusively invited to the party. The revolution is happening right in front of everyone as the edifice of the Old Covenant is being dismantled and replaced one individual at a time by the New. But it’s happening so subtly that it will not be obvious what Jesus has done until the end of the story in the garden. Such is the brilliance of this gospel.