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.

Psalm 114; 1 Samuel 21:10-22:23; John 4:43-54

Psalm 114: In most psalms, God’s creation is described with majestic grandeur, but in this remembrance of Israel’s story, creation becomes the main player in the drama:

The sea saw and fled,
Jordan turned back.
The mountains danced like rams,
hills like lambs of the flock. (3,4)

The first verse is of course the parting of the sea as Israel fled out of Egypt; the second forty years later as Israel enters Canaan.  The simile of dancing lambs and rams, which at first seems almost humorous, would be a familiar sight just about anywhere in Israel.  And it brings to mind  the presence of sheep on the night of Jesus’ birth where a different celebration took place.

Then in a literary device that I cannot recall seeing anywhere else in the psalms, the psalmist asks a rhetorical question of these same supposedly inanimate, or in the case of the sheep and rams, dumb animals, stated as if they are doing something wrong, which of course they are not because the joy of the earth is so great at what God has done for Israel.

What is wrong with you, sea, that you flee,
Jordan, that you turn back,
mountains, that you dance like rams,
hills like lambs of the flock? (5,6)

Is this just a poetic device or is something deeper going on here?

I think this is a brilliantly fresh way to remind us the power of God and especially of God’s joy expressed in a way we humans could never duplicate as the psalmist reveals it is God who “turns the rock to a pond of water, / flint to a spring of water.” (8) So great is God’s joy with Israel that the normal order of the world–what we expect the world to be like and how we expect it to behave–is turned inside out and upside down. I wonder if this psalm has been set to music?

1 Samuel 21:10-22:23: David is on the run from Saul and escapes to Gath where he plays the madman to escape being killed by the king of Gath. He then flees to the cave of Adullam, where word gets out he is there and all the others, his family and others who were afraid of Saul gather, “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them.” (20:2). David certainly retains his charismatic power. He now has a small army of 400 people.

In the meantime Doeg the Edomite, head of Saul’s servants, reveals to to Saul that David received Goliath’s sword and Saul orders the priests of Nob to come before him. Saul is now completely paranoid, accusing the priests, ““Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, by giving him bread and a sword, and by inquiring of God for him, so that he has risen against me, to lie in wait, as he is doing today?” (20:13) Saul orders his guards to kill the priests. They refuse and Doeg the Edomite does it instead–all 85 priests are killed, together with the entire town of Nob.

This event seems a clear warning to the readers of this history. It is an alien, Doeg, who has infiltrated Saul’s court and killed the priests of God. This is the price of being corrupted by people and beliefs that are alien to what God has commanded for Israel. The people are paying a high price for preferring a king over God’s original plan with the judges.

The scene shifts to David, who says, “I am responsible for the lives of all your father’s house. Stay with me, and do not be afraid; for the one who seeks my life seeks your life; you will be safe with me.” (20:22,23) He is already behaving like the king he will soon become. But the author’s point is clear: David is a man of God and as leader he willingly takes on a leader’s responsibility.

John 4:43-54: Jesus returns to his home turf in Galilee and is immediately confronted by a royal official, who obviously carries some weight, and wishes Jesus to come to his house to heal his son. Jesus refuses, but simply says, “Go; your son will live.” John then tells us “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.” (50) and he finds that his son is indeed healed. And, “So he himself believed, along with his whole household.” (52)

The lesson here is not the miracle itself–and there’s even some ambiguity that this was even a healing miracle, although the father certainly saw it that way. Perhaps the boy was already on the road to recovery. But as John notes, this is a “sign” (Jesus’ second “sign” after the wine incident at Cana).  He is careful not to call it a miracle. John always has a didactic point with each of Jesus’ “signs” that he describes. Here, the issue is belief in the Word. The man believed Jesus by speaking those words would heal his son. That is all it took.

It’s also worth noting that it was Jesus’ words, “your son will live” that were what was efficacious here, not his touch as we see in the synoptics. This is important to the Gospel writer who has introduced Jesus to us as the Word.

This is enormously encouraging for all of us, including John’s listeners, who did not have the advantage of Jesus’ physical presence. Clearly Jesus’ power is not constrained to physical touch; it transcends time and space. What is required of us is honest belief. That, together with Jesus as Word, is sufficient.

Psalm 113; 1 Samuel 20:18-21:9; John 4:39-42

Psalm 113: This praise psalm celebrates God’s omnipresence across all time and all space: “May the LORD’s name be blessed / now and forevermore./ From the place the sun rises to where it sets,” (2,3) That God occupies all creation is emphasized in the verticality of heaven being above earth (which is where we get that sense of heaven being “up there.”): “Who is like the LORD our God, / Who sits high above, / Who sees down below in the heavens and on the earth?” In fact the sense here is that God is even above heaven as he peers down through it to earth.

Height, of course, connotes great power. That’s why kings sit on thrones on a dais (and preachers used to preach from pulpits up in the air). By contrast it is the poor and lowly who are the lowest of the low, but God “raises the poor from the dust, from the dungheap lifts the needy,”  And God doesn’t simply raise up the poor and needy but they are to be “seated among princes.” We should reflect on this verse when a homeless person enters a church and sits in the back.

Once again, we have the focus on God’s care for those who are on the lowest rungs of society; indeed, even in the “dungheap” or the garbage dumps, where even today in some countries, children are living. God never forgets those most in need–and the message to us is obvious.

1 Samuel 20:18-21:9: David and Jonathan are uncertain as to whether or not Saul wants to kill David, so they devise an elaborate plan so signal David when Jonathan determines his father’s intentions. David is missed at the meal; Jonathan makes an excuse for David’s absence and Saul curses his own son, heir to his throne, ““You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame,” (20:30) and vows to kill David. Jonathan then has the courageous temerity to ask his father, ““Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” (20:32). Saul, more angry than ever, throws his spear at Jonathan, barely missing him.

Jonathan arranges for the signal that indicates David must flee. Risking everything, David and Jonathan meet one last time, knowing they will never see each other again, “and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more.” (20:41) Here we encounter one of the deepest, most poignant scenes in the OT. Those final four words tell us that David loved Jonathan as deeply as his friend loved him. And now they Would any of us be willing to risk the curse of our father for the love of a friend?

David is now on the run, alone and hungry. He encounters the priest Ahimelech, who wonders why he is alone. David gives an excuse and asks for bread. The only bread available is the Bread of the Presence, holy and available only to young men who have not been with women. But David says, “the vessels of the young men are holy even when it is a common journey; how much more today will their vessels be holy?” and the priest gives him the bread. Nothing happens. David is not struck dead for the sins of blasphemy or desecration. Here we have a sign that as Jesus puts it hundreds of years later, the Sabbath is for man, not the other way around.

In a happy coincidence, the priest happens to have Golaith’s sword, which he gives to David. I’m left with the feeling that the writers of 1st Samuel may have allowed themselves a bit of editorial license here, but at least David is now armed.

John 4:39-42: John reveals that because of this single encounter with the Samaritan woman and her passionate belief that he is the Messiah, Jesus stays for two days in Samaria and many come to believe, saying to the unnamed woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” (42). (I’m sure that hanging out in Samaria for two days must have driven the Jewish disciples crazy.)

To John, Samaria represents the non-Jewish world, and he makes this obvious by recording what the Samaritans said, “this is truly the Savior of the world.” So, just four chapters into his gospel, John is not keeping us in any suspense, but is making it clear that Jesus is for everyone. Not just for Israel, but for everyone; not just Israel’s Messiah, but everyone’s Savior. John has transformed the Jewish Messiah into world’s Savior. The rest of the Gospel basically plays out this theme as John lays out the terms of the New Covenant that is for the world, not just for Israel.

Psalm 112; 1 Samuel 19:8-20:17; John 4:27-38

Psalm 112: The previous psalm (111) is basically a catalog of God’s marvelous qualities. This psalm is a catalog of the qualities belonging to the man who follows God.  (Alter points out that this psalm is an acrostic, with each of its 22 lines beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet–in order.)

The first verse (following the opening ‘Hallelujah”) defines the most essential quality of the upright man: “Happy the man who fears the LORD. / His commands he keenly desires.” (2). True happiness comes from only one source: the fear of the Lord. Notice that happiness is not dispensed by God Himself, but it arises from within us because we stand before God in awesome reverence (which is how I take “fear” in this context). Too often, we look to God to dispense happiness, when in fact it is our response to , and reverence for, God that is essential before happiness can be found.

Moreover, we not only gladly accept God’s commands, but we desire them.

Once the essential relationship between God and man exists, the “upright man” enjoys many blessings, beginning with the respect of those around him “A great figure in the land his seed shall be, / the generation of the upright shall be blessed.” (2) And in this society, the greatest of all rewards–and the desire of every parent: a progeny that is a blessing to him.

But perhaps the greatest reward of fearing God is steadfast courage in adversity: “From evil rumor he shall not fear. /His heart is firm, he trusts in the LORD./ His heart is staunch, he shall not fear.” (7,8) When we face disparagement by others or a grim situation, we know that we are not alone because we fear God, who is our refuge and our strength. And because we desire his commands, we are wholly committed to follow God’s guidance.

1 Samuel 19:8-20:17: Once again, David defeats the Philistines and once again, “an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul,” (19:2) and he tries to spear David. David’s wife, Michal, helps David escape Sul with a ruse of putting an idol in David’s bed to look like he’s asleep. When Saul discovers David has escaped he sends his messengers to capture him, so he can kill him.

A strangely comical scene follows as Saul sends messengers, who fall into a “prophetic frenzy,” and prove ineffectual in finding David. so, Saul goes out himself and “He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night.” (19:24) 

Is Saul truly that jealous of David’s success or is he simply mentally ill? There’s no question that Saul’s singular focus on capturing and killing David out of sheer envy for the greater man has unhinged him.  So much so, that David knows he must escape. In a poignant scene between David and Jonathan, the two friends come up with a plan to establish whether Saul’s obsession is temporary or if he truly plans to kill David. Jonathan is willing to give his own life to David, “ but if I die, never cut off your faithful love from my house, even if the Lord were to cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” (20:15) and then, “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” (20:17)

From our cultural perspective it would be easy to ascribe Jonathan’s love for David as intense homosexual feelings, but I’m not so sure. I think that the love Jonathan has for David is an example of how deeply one man can love another, but without sexual undertones.  From our perspective, the story of Jonathan is there, I think, as a precursor of the intense love that Jesus felt for his disciples–and that he has for each of us.

John 4:27-38: As Jesus finishes his conversation with the Samaritan woman, his disciples appear and are “astonished that he was speaking with a woman,” but as John points out, they do not ask Jesus why. Perhaps they are figuring out that this rabbi is given to completely new and surprising acts–or perhaps they were merely intimidated.

But the woman is unafraid to speak and returns to her village, unafraid to speak what some must have thought either heresy or lunacy, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” Notice the double negative. Is the woman hedging her bets? Or is she simply so astounded at what has happened that she can’t believe herself what she has just experienced? I have to believe that any encounter with Jesus is so life-changing that it’s difficult to just blithely accept what has happened. It requires reflection and time to absorb its astounding truth.

John is constantly juxtaposing physical reality–the disciples are his mechanism for this–and spiritual truth. The disciples offer to get Jesus some food, but he replies he doesn’t need any. So they quite naturally assume someone else brought a snack to Jesus, but he replies, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

Jesus continues the metaphor of sewing and harvesting, telling the disciples, “look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” (35). Unlike the synoptic gospels that more helpfully note when Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God, John is more oblique. But he gives us clear notice here of what work in the Kingdom is about: “‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.” (37, 38) Our efforts will not necessarily result in direct reward, but our labor is nonetheless necessary. In short, working in the Kingdom is not about what we can get out of it, but what others will reap by virtue of our efforts.



Psalm 111; 1 Samuel 18:1-19:7; John 4:1-26

Psalm 111: Given that its first word is “Hallelujah” it’s pretty easy to see this is a psalm of praise. And it does not disappoint on that score. But there’s an intriguing point raised right in the second verse: “Great are the deeds of the LORD, / discovered by all who desire them.”

Yes, God’s deeds are by definition great, but  they must be “discovered.” In other words, it would be possible to drift through life without actually being aware of God’s greatness. And given the preoccupations of modern American society, its distractions, and its stress levels it’s fair to conclude that not many people have taken the time to “discover” God’s greatness. Certainly one of the simplest way to do that is to spend time in God’s good creation.  Or on stopping for a moment and reflecting on how God has blessed our lives. (This is something that’s easier to do once one has experienced a life-threatening illness or accident.)

But its not just a question of stopping to discover God’s great deeds. This verse asserts that we discover God’s greatness because we desire to do so. To me, this means making a conscious decision; awareness of God’s greatness does not come to us when we are in an unconscious state. We need to be alert and on the lookout–a theme that Jesus picks up in a couple of his parables about being on the lookout for the return of the master.

Finally, desire arises out of love; a willingness to set other distractions aside and focus on the object of desire. That comes quite naturally when we are in love with another person. And if we truly love God, our desire to discover His great deeds will come equally naturally.

1 Samuel 18:1-19:7: The relational triangle of Saul, Jonathan, and David is one of the most eloquent stories of love juxtaposed against envy-induced hate in the Bible. First, the love of Jonathan for David: “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (18:2) Jonathan basically gives over the role of prince to David and “David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him;” (5) David’s military success pleases everyone, even Saul, Until Saul hears the women singing, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (7)

Envy immediately consumes Saul and he tries to kill David by throwing a spear at him. He then resorts to subterfuge through marriage and the pretext of sending David against the Philistines, and “planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.” (25)  But David continues to be successful, and Saul finally realizes “that the Lord was with David.” (26) But rather than rejoicing in this, Saul feels even more threatened by David: “Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward.” (27) Only Jonathan’s direct intercession spares David for the time being.

What are the writers telling us here? That great power leads to megalomania, and when someone who is even greater comes along, the natural reaction is to preserve that power at all costs. The parallels of this story to the church authorities and Jesus is striking. Like David, Jesus is greater than they. Worse, he is more popular than they, and their reaction is not to cede power, but to have Jesus killed. But there was no Jonathan to interceded for Jesus.

There’s a parallel for us, too. Even though we know the Holy Spirit is greater than we, the power of our ego will always resist allowing Jesus to take over our lives.

John 4:1-26: There are so many layers in the incredibly rich story of the woman at the well. But for me its most remarkable aspect is what Jesus tells the woman when she says that he is a prophet. He observes that the Samaritans do not knowing what they worship and the Jews do. But then he carries this even farther, saying, “ But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” In other words neither the mountain on which they’re standing nor Jerusalem will matter. Worship will finally be independent of location for we can worship “in spirit and in truth” regardless of our physical location. John is opening up an incredibly important fact here: worship is about spirit and truth, not about physical location.

The woman is now sure she is talking to the actual Messiah,“I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” (26) and Jesus confirms that even more directly than we read in any of the other gospels: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

I think it’s signficiant that for John, Jesus’ most significant theological discourses occur in one- on-one settings, not in front of crowds: Nicodemus, the learned rabbi, at night and with a Samaritan woman, who is as sinful as one can by the world’s definition. John is making it crystal clear that the Messiah, the Word, has come both for the Jews and for the rest of the world.  The “one-on-oneness” of these encounters also tells us that Jesus comes to each one of us individually. There is no “mass marketing” when it comes to the gospel.