Psalm 119:153–160; 1 Kings 1:28-53; John 12:1-11

Originally published 11/5/2014. Revised and updated 11/5/2018.

Psalm 119:153–160: Once again, the stanza opens with supplication:
See my affliction and free me,
for Your teaching I have not forgotten.” (153)

And again, there is the confidence that God will save him because our psalmist has a thorough personal knowledge of God’s teaching.  This time, though, we are in a courtroom and God is his attorney:
Argue my cause and redeem me,
through Your utterance  give me life. (154).

Which raises the question: if God is his attorney, who is the judge? I think the only candidate is God, who is at once defender and judge. By drawing this distinction between advocate and judge, I think we get a hint of what is to come for us under the terms of the New  Covenant, where it is Jesus Christ as our intercessor, who argues our case before God.

Even though the psalmist has asked God to argue his case, our psalmist soon returns to arguing his own case, asserting as usual he has not strayed from God’s teachings whereas his enemies certainly have:
Many are my pursuers and foes,
yet from Your decrees I have not swerved. (157)

Then, in almost a role reversal between defendant and advocate, he argues that he has defended God’s law before those who have become God’s enemies:
I have seen traitors and quarreled with them,
who did not observe Your utterance. (158)

Thus we have the clear implication by the psalmist that “I’ve defended You, God, so now please defend me.” On the other hand, we have assurance of Jesus’ defense. In his closing argument our psalmist reminds us that in the end only one things matters: the truth:
O Lord, as befits Your kindness give me life.
The chief of Your words is truth
and forever all Your righteous laws. (159b, 160)

Like the psalmist, I think we have an obligation to argue God’s case before those who reject him. Not just with words, but with our actions, as well.  The key here is that eventually truth will out.

1 Kings 1:28-53: On this day before the midterm elections, this story resonates: the transfer of power from King David to King Solomon. After being reminded by Bathsheba and Nathan, David utters the all-important words, “as I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so will I do this day.” (30) The author gives us a hint of great things to come as Benaiah prophesies, “As the Lord has been with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.” (37), which is repeated by other servants (47). Solomon is crowned and “the city is in a (joyous) uproar,” which the pretender, Adonaijah, hears in the distance. Jonathan, son of the priest Abiathar delivers the bad news to the would-be king: “our lord King David has made Solomon king.” (43)

An interesting side note: “The king has sent with him the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada,…and they had him ride on the king’s mule.” (44) The obvious significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey on that Palm Sunday would not have been lost on the Pharisees or temple priests.

Adonaijah knows that his attempt to gain the throne has failed because David himself has anointed Solomon his successor. The guests of Adonaijah, knowing they are at great risk for having supported the usurper, “got up trembling and went their own ways.” So much for loyalty. (49). Adonaijah knows that the sure penalty for his rashness is death and he runs to the altar, grabbing its horns, which gives him sanctuary. Solomon has Adonaijah brought to him after Solomon swears not to kill him. We get a preview of how Solomon will rule when he grants mercy to Adonaijah with his first act as king: “If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” (52) Whereupon Solomon sends Adonaijah home.

Unlike the blood and battles that characterized David’s succession over Saul, we witness the first peaceful succession of power in Israel. What’s interesting here is that unlike David, who always consults with God before any major act, Solomon seems to grant mercy solely on the basis of his own wisdom. What will be the relationship between God and Solomon? Will God now recede into the background as a speaking character in this history of Israel?

John 12:1-11:  Sometime after the astounding resuscitation of Lazarus, we find  Jesus relaxing at Lazarus’ home in Bethany. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive oil. In a breathtaking act of false charity, Judas protests, giving his lengthiest speech in the Gospels: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (5) Which of course as John points out is a lie to cover the fact he’s been stealing from the common purse.

Never missing the opportunity to make it clear what’s about to happen, Jesus says, “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” (7). That doesn’t faze the disciples, who of course think Jesus’ burial will come years in the future, not in a bit more than a week.

Since he brought Lazarus back to life, Jesus’ popularity is growing by leaps and bounds. So, “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well” (10) in their increasingly desperate attempts to quash this Jesus movement.

The dramatic story of Lazarus and its aftermath occurs only in John. Yet, it is one of the seminal points in the story, and Jesus’ greatest miracle. So, I have to wonder, why is it not in the Synoptics? As John tells us, “many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” (12) and that will help explain the large and enthusiastic crowds that greet Jesus when he enters Jerusalem. But the silence in Matthew, Mark and Luke about this seminal event is remarkable.

 

Psalm 119:145-152; 1 Kings 1:1-27; John 11:45-57

Originally published 11/3/2014. Revised and updated 11/3/2018.

Psalm 119:145-152: Our psalmist is now in full supplication mode:
I called out with a whole heart.
Answer me, LORD. (145)

Unlike many other psalms of supplication, he has a unique reason that God should answer him. It’s not because he’s in danger or being assailed in battle. Rather, it’s a reprise of the overarching theme of this psalm: the ‘answer me so I can keep the law” theme:
I called to You—rescue me,
that I may observe Your precepts.
I greeted the dawn and cried out, 
for Your word did I hope. (146, 147)

In previous psalms the poet will cry to God and then await God’s answer. In this psalm, though, there’s a scholastic level of sophistication. The psalmist cries to God because he craves the voice of God as God speaks to him through the Scriptures, the Law, God’s precepts. Yes, God expresses His word through nature, as witness the many psalms that talk about God’s voice in the thunder and other acts of nature. But now, God speaks through His Law and through that which is written.

Which is how I fundamentally hear God speaking to me. The psalmist then says,
Hear my voice as befits Your kindness. 
O LORD, as befits Your law, give me life. (149)

The goos news is that we no longer need to seek life through God’s law. Instead he has given us His Word directly in the person of Jesus Christ. That is the great difference between the psalmist and me–and I am grateful for that.

1 Kings 1:1-27: This first chapter of opens with King David sick and advanced in age. He has not publicly announced who will succeed him. In the absence of word from David, Absalom’s ambitious younger brother, Adonijah, is positioning himself to succeed David’s throne.

The ever reliable prophet Nathan goes to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, and advises her “Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne?‘” (13). Then, as he has arranged, Nathan arrives while Bathsheba is talking to David, confirming Bathsheba’s news about Adonijah, noting that as the usurper prepares to take the throne with sacrifices and feasts, he has “invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army and Abiathar the priest.” (25b) and they are toasting the usurper. Nathan continues, “he did not invite me, your servant, and the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon.” (26) Nathan then points out “this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not let your servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.” (27)

This ancient story is a reminder that no matter how great our leaders, they will age and eventually fail. Even those of us who are neither kings nor great leaders must remember that we are mortal and recognizing that reality–and preparing for a future that does not include ourselves–is our duty and responsibility.

John 11:45-57: The word about Jesus’ radical miracle gets out because some of the witnesses “went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.” (46) The Pharisees and chief priests convene a meeting where they are more than frustrated:“What are we accomplishing?” (47)  They go on to state (quite understandably, I think) that shortly, “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (48) Caiaphas, leaps to the obvious conclusion: “it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (50) John then says something I had never noticed before. First, he points out that Caiaphas “did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation,” (51). In short, it is a prophetic statement.

John then doubles down for his community and for us, his readers, on this surprising angle with serious, revolutionary theology by revealing that what the conspirators were about to do would change the world. This is about much more than Israel; it is about everyone on earth: “Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” (52) The phrase, “Dispersed children of God,” seems to be a clear reference to all of us, not just the Jews.

John thus makes it crystal clear that the evil act that Caiaphas and the others are plotting to accomplish is in fulfillment of something far greater than disgruntled leaders trying to get Jesus out of their way or to keep their Roman oppressors happy. This is about the salvation of humankind.

In that particular time and space, what Caiphus and the others did to Jesus was undeniably an evil act, but in the larger picture of salvation history, the evil act was an essential element of God’s plan.  Of course Caiaphas and his cohorts acted with malice and never realized they were part of God’s “big picture.” For that evil they deserve punishment—just as Judas did. But in a strange way, we must be grateful to them–they are essential to what has to happen, and John makes this point crystal clear to us.

 

Psalm 119:137–144; 2 Samuel 23:18-24:25; John 11:31-44

Psalm 119:137–144: This stanza is a good reminder for all of us living in what has become a post-Christian society. Those who reject God are no longer indifferent,  many are actively hostile to hearing anything having to do with God’s word. Especially over-enthusiasm, as our psalmist notes;
My zeal devastated me,
for my foes forgot Your words. (139)

His zeal for God has exacted a substantial social cost but our psalmist soldiers bravely onward:
Puny I am and despised,
yet Your decrees I have not forgotten. (141)

Despite his trials, he remembers what we all need to remember. God is still here and his righteousness and justice are immutable:
Your righteousness forever is right,
and Your teaching is truth. (142)

For the psalmist, it’s all a question of focus. Whatever oppression he may be enduring, there is just one place to look for succor:
Straits and distress have found me—
Your commands are my delight. (143)

It is on this solid rock he stands–and we stand. Even better than the psalmist, for us it is God’s capital ‘w’ Word–Jesus Christ–that is the source of life. As the psalmist has it, “Grant me insight that I may live.” (144) For us, it is living in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit that is life, no matter what oppression we may eventually face. We do not have to arrive here at this safe place though insight and knowledge; rather, we arrive by grace.

2 Samuel 23:18-24:25: Joab’s nephew Abishai is the commander of Israel’s special forces under David–“the Thirty.” One of the Thirty, “Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant warrior from Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds” (23:20), who “won a name beside the three warriors. He was renowned among the Thirty, but he did not attain to the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard.” (23:23)  These verses and the catalog of names that follows give us insight into the sophisticated hierarchical organization of the Army under David and his general, Joab. 

For reasons our author doesn’t specify, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.” (24:1). Joab resists this task. An angry David insists that the census be conducted and the it reveals that “in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand.” (24:9)

David suddenly realizes that he did a bad thing by taking the census (Alter informs us that taking a census had negative folkloric connotations and that the people would feel cursed by virtue of being counted.) A suddenly arbitrary God offers David three choices: 3 years of famine, 3 months of warfare or 3 days of pestilence. David chooses pestilence, but God’s anger is averted by David’s purchase of a threshing floor and offering a sacrifice there “and the plague was averted from Israel.” (24:25)

This is a very confusing story. The character of God demanding such severe punishment by virtue of David taking a census seems arbitrary and very much out of character of the God whom David has been following–and speaking with–up to this point. One is left with the impression that this story has been tacked on at the end of 2 Samuel by a different author.

John 11:31-44: Ever the brilliant author, John reveals a new dimension of Jesus’ character as he arrives at Lazarus’ house and finds Mary weeping. Up to this point Jesus has been pretty much focused on the rather didactic lesson he wishes to communicate by eventually raising Lazarus. He has an important lesson to teach about his own life and impending death, and even the protests of his disciples have not deterred him. He was willing to let Lazarus die in order to facilitate this lesson.

But when he arrives and Mary falls at his feet weeping, saying (I think plaintively, not angrily), “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” (32) Jesus sees the very real anguish that his delay has caused. And then when he actually arrives at Lazarus tomb, Jesus weeps. This is one of those places where we realize that Jesus is indeed fully human. Yes, as he’s been saying for the last chapter, he has followed the will of his Father, but as we will see in Gethsemane, it has come at the price of real human suffering; Jesus’ humanity is fully expressed here.

And not everyone is happy. Since some in the crowd chide Jesus–certainly a disciple or two, one of them probably Thomas–“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (36)

But then the great surprise. Yes, Jesus could certainly have prevented Lazarus’ death, but now by raising Lazarus he offers his greatest miracle recorded in the Gospels. I think if the disciples had really been paying attention–and it’s even a difficult thing for us to see–is that Jesus is making the final statement about why he’s really here; he’s revealing why his Father has sent him. It’s not to set himself against and overcome the political authorities of the time. It is neither Israel nor Rome that he has come to earth to conquer. He has come to conquer death itself.

Of course for us who have the privilege of knowing the outcome of Jesus’ story, the point of the Lazarus story is easy for us to see. But for the crowd there it can only be confusion and wonderment.

Psalm 119:129–136; 2 Samuel 22:26–23:17; John 11:17–30

Psalm reflections originally published 11/3/2016. Revised and updated 11/1/2018.

Psalm 119:129-136: As the psalmist’s encomium regarding God’s word stretches to unprecedented lengths, he makes what at first looks like a provocative assertion:
The portal of Your words sends forth light,
makes the simple understand. (130)

Really? Sometimes it seems that God’s word is awfully obscure. And even when the sophisticated understand, they tend to fight among themselves regarding the interpretation of God’s word. Never mind the “simple.}

So what is our psalmist saying here? That we just need to open the Bible and read or pray and listen for God’s response and then we’ll just understand everything in the Bible? Hardly. Rather, I think he’s being a bit more subtle in the metaphor here. We need to think of God’s word as being behind a closed door that is ours to open. We are holding the doorknob in our hand. And just as an interior light spreads its light into the outside darkness when the door is opened, we must open the door of our heart to feel the light of God’s word. Only after opening that door will God’s light pour over us.

Will we–simple or sophisticated–then understand everything God has to say? Well, we may not get the theological subtleties of God’s word in the normal sense of “understanding,” but even the simplest among us will come to understand via God’s word that God is present with us and that God holds us in His light. Without his word we remain in the spiritual dark. Certainly we are in the dark with regard to knowledge and understanding. But we also know with assurance that it is through God’s word that He speaks to us. The Word reassures us that He is present in our lives–and above all that He loves us. I think this reality is summed up very nicely in the old song, “Jesus loves me; this I know for the Bible tells me so.”

2 Samuel 22:26–23:17: David’s lengthy poem of praise continues. Like our psalmist above, God makes a distinction between God-followers and those who seek to oppress the downtrodden:
…with the pure you show yourself pure,
    and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
You deliver a humble people,

    but your eyes are upon the haughty to bring them down. (27, 28)

David knows that all that he is and all he has done has come from God:
For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?
The God who has girded me with strength
    has opened wide my path.
He made my feet like the feet of deer,
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your help has made me great. (32-36)

These verses describe what set David apart from Saul and what sets God-followers apart from those who deny God’s existence: the acknowledgement that all that we are and all that we are able to  do comes from God.

Chapter 23 brings us David’s last words, including a brilliant summary of how David ruled:
The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
    his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
    ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
    like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
    gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. (23:2-4)

One suspects that the author of this poem, probably in Babylonian captivity, felt intense irony as he wrote. For the Jewish captivity had arisen from the failure of the subsequent kings of Israel and Judah to follow David’s words. Even though David sinned mightily, he always turned back to God for guidance. Egomania by leaders who think they know it all comes inevitably to a bad end. I wonder where the egomania of our present leaders will bring us?

The chapter concludes with a catalog of “David’s mighty men,” giving credit to David’s faithful companions such as Eleazar, who “stood his ground.” (23:10) and Shammah, “who took his stand in the middle of the plat [of land]. (23:11). The writer celebrates the thirty chiefs, who “went down to join David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim.” (23:13). And finally, the three brave warriors who risked their lives and brought water to David.

The lesson here is clear: David did not accomplish his great works on his own. He led loyal and courageous men. No leader can do great things by himself. This catalog of these men who stood beside David is a wonderful reminder of David’s unparalleled leadership—leadership that inspired intense loyalty because David listened to—and followed—God to his dying day.

John 11:17–30: Martha  famously excoriates Jesus for his too late arrival to heal a dying Lazarus: ““Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (21) But less well known her words that follow: “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (22) Even in her frustration that Jesus did not come in time to save her brother, her faith remains intact.

Jesus responds to Martha’s assertion with the ambiguous statement, “Your brother will rise again.” (23) Martha is not expecting Lazarus’s resuscitation, so the naturally responds, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (24) But then Jesus responds with his famous statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (26, 26a) 

Right up there with John 3:16, I take this statement to be at the core of this gospel’s theology. But unlike John 3:16 the verse operates at two levels. The first and most obvious is the theological: This is John’s clear statement about who Jesus is and the words, “life,” “die,” and “live” are freighted with the definitive meaning of the theology of eternal life.

Martha is all of us and her reply must be our reply: “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (27) As always in this gospel, it comes back to belief. Either we believe Jesus is who he says he is—as Martha does—or we reject him. There can be no middle ground.

The second level of course is the narrative itself: Jesus is predicting his own death and resurrection and hinting at the resuscitation of Lazarus.

I think it’s important that John has written this narrative as between Martha and Jesus. Martha is all of us: even though she loves Jesus, she is busy with her own affairs and sees life in practical, real-word terms. If Mary is the heart, Martha is the mind. And both are equally crucial in believing Jesus is who he says he is. Belief is about much more than just feeling and emotion.

Psalm 119:121–128; 2 Samuel 22:1–25; John 11:1–16

Originally published 10/31/2016. Revised and updated 10/31/2018.

Psalm 119:121–128: Our psalmist prays to God for the infamous quid pro quo:
I have done justice and righteousness;
do not yield me to my oppressors.
Vouch Your servant for good.
Let not the arrogant oppress me.” (121-122)

These verses describe  our natural human tendency in our relationship with God: “I’ve been good, so I therefore deserve God’s protection.” This quid pro quo is at certainly superior to the more common theme of God as Santa Claus that we encounter in those who believe the heresy of the prosperity gospel: “I’ve been good, so shower me with blessings.”

Now having gone on for 120 verses, I have to accept the sincerity of our psalmist. Nevertheless, IMHO, he’s beginning to be just a bit too overwrought:
My eyes pined for Your rescue
and for Your righteous utterance.
 (123)

Once again, our psalmist reminds God of the quid pro quo, hoping to partake of God’s inherent generosity:
Do for Your servant as befits Your kindness
and teach me Your statutes.
 (124)

And just to make sure God gets his point, he repeats himself:
Your servant I am, grant me Your insight,
that I may know Your precepts.
 (125)

However, I really should not be too hard on him. He is not asking for wealth or power; he is asking God for insight and ultimately, wisdom. I suppose that is the more noble supplication.

This wisdom seems to instill the psalmist with nascent courage. Rather than mere contemplation, it appears he is actually prepared to act on God’s behalf against the people he’s identified as God’s enemies:
It is time to act for the Lord—
they have violated Your teaching.
 (126)

Nevertheless, what intrigues me here is the very didactic framework of the psalmist’s intended action: people are evil not because they have done bad things, but that they have “violated [God’s] teaching. Yes, in the abstract violation of God’s law what sin is all about, but let’s call wrongdoing for what it is, rather than effectively whitewashing it as straying from God’s teaching.

2 Samuel 22:1–25: One of the really cool things about our authors is how they concatenate poetry and history. They remind us that there were human beings like David who were in close relationship with God, and that history is not just about intrigue, battles, and conspiracies. Here, we encounter this beautiful psalm as a bookend to David’s career—a psalm the authors attribute to David as emblematic of his unshakable relationship with God.

In lines that are reminiscent of the 23rd Psalm and for me, more poignant and powerful than even that psalm, David opens his prayer with a description of the solidity of his relationship with God:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
   my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.” (2,3)

David’s prayer of gratitude is the essence worship itself:
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
 and I am saved from my enemies. (4)

Notice how much more powerful these words are than the scholastic entreaties of the Psalm 119 writer. While I have never been confronted by armies of enemies, I can say these lines with the same gratitude as God has been at my side, rescuing me from disease.

David’s supplication is equally powerful:
The cords of Sheol entangled me,
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry came to his ears. (6,7)

This poem includes a wonderful description of God as the God of creation. He is not some kindly bearded old uncle.  God’s apocalyptic power is on full display:
Out of the brightness before him
    coals of fire flamed forth.
The Lord thundered from heaven;

    the Most High uttered his voice.” (13)

It is verses like these that describe God’s ineffable power that keep me from casually referring to God as ‘daddy.’ Yes, he is that, but I think far too many Christians would rather ignore the thundering power of the God who created all things; the God who speaks through the forces of nature, and who created us. Reflect on these words:
…at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of the breath of his nostrils” (16)

We realize in these words that God cannot be placed into a safe little box of our own making.

David recapitulates what God has done for him in direct, powerful language, fully aware that he could not have defeated his enemies on his own:
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me. (18)

Before Jesus, there is also the inevitable acknowledgement that as our psalmist keeps asserting, there is a quid pro quo—even for David:
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God. (21, 22)

In fact the poem ends on this note that David, having been righteous, has been redeemed by God:
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight. (25)

As always, I am grateful that the terms of the New Covenant have brought me salvation through Jesus Christ rather than through my own failing efforts at strict obedience.

John 11:1–16: We come to the story of the famous resuscitation of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus— a story found only here because our gospel writer not only wants to give the most dramatic example of Jesus’ salvific power, but where I think our author wants to puts neoplatonism on full display.

We all know the straightforward theological implications of the Lazarus story: Lazarus is ill; Jesus declines to go heal him for two days. Hs friend dies and is buried. Jesus has a specific plan and asserts that “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (4)

Yet another socratic dialog occurs, once again around the theme of sight and blindness, light and darkness. Noting that it’s far easier to see where we’re going during daylight hours, Jesus observes, “Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” (9, 10) This statement of course operates not only at the physical level, but at the spiritual/philosophical level as well.

So when Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him” (11) our gospel writer is making it clear that Jesus is not only talking about a healing, but also that the risen Lazarus will be fully awake and fully sighted through the salvific power of the risen Christ: “Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.” (13) For me, this is very similar to Plato’s concept that we humans are stumbling around in a cave where the darkness prevents us from fully comprehending actual truth. For John the gospel writer, Jesus is the light that illuminates both reality and truth. And as Jesus will observe in the Upper Room Discourse, he is the sole source of truth (John 14:6). 

Jesus now turns to head back to Judea and ultimately, to Jerusalem. This is a strategically dangerous move as Thomas, who so far has not spoken in this gospel, observes to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (16) As usual, this line operates at both the physical level—after all, the authorities want to stone Jesus and presumably his disciples—but also at the spiritual level: That for all who follow Jesus, our old “Adam” dies through baptism so that we become new creatures in Christ.

Psalm 119:113–120; 2 Samuel 21; John 10:34–42

Originally published 10/29/2016. Revised and updated 10/30/2018.

Psalm 119:113–120: By this point in this psalm there is little new left to say—either for the psalmist or for me.

Once again, our psalmist sees himself beset on all sides and implores,
Turn away from me, evildoers,
that I may keep the commands of my God.” (115)

Quite frankly, I believe we can keep God’s commands even as evil surrounds us.

I’m suspicious of the psalmists’ motivations here. Is he really asking to be rescued just so he can keep God’s commands? I sense a certain intellectualism here, especially when we compare these verses to the desperate and to me, far more authentic supplications we encounter elsewhere in the Psalms, as e.g. Psalm 22. One suspects that hanging on the cross, Jesus would not have uttered,
Uphold me that I may be rescued
to regard Your statutes at all times.
 (117)

Moreover, the psalmist pretends to have deep insight into God’s motivation and action in the lives of others, especially those whom the psalmist regards as wrongdoers:
You spurned all who stray from Your statutes,
for their deception is but a lie
. (118)

Really? How do you know what God has done to others? [Not to mention the annoying tautology, “their deception is but a lie.”]

But we have to admit that he’s still an optimist:
Like dross You destroy all the earth’s wicked;
therefore I love Your precepts.
 (119)

Last time I looked, and as many other psalms observe, it’s the wicked who always seem to be prospering. But we cannot argue with the last line of the stanza where the psalmist recalls that God is God:
My flesh shudders from the fear of You,
and of Your laws I am in awe.
 (120)

WHich is certainly a pretty good operational definition of what it means to “fear the Lord.” God certainly deserves far greater fear and reverence than we are wont to show in our modern worship where God comes off too often as an avuncular old man rather than Lord of the universe.

2 Samuel 21: In the midst of a famine David inquires of God about its cause. God replies, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (1) Our authors note that the Gibeonites, while not of Israel or Judah were under Israel’s protection—a pact Saul broke in “his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.” (2)

David asks the Gibeonites what they desire as recompense. Their answer is stark: they wish to impale the sons of Saul. David complies, although he understandably spares lame Mephibosheth. This incident is a reminder of the blood vengeance that characterized ancient civilization. Of course we cannot be smug about our “superior morals” as we watch the destruction of Aleppo by Russia and Syria and the manifest cruelty on display elsewhere in the Mideast. Or the shooting of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The veneer of modern civilization is awfully thin.

Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, are given a proper burial and “After that, God heeded supplications for the land.” (14) Which doesn’t sound all that different from the kinds of propitiation of the small-g gods that surrounding tribes engaged in.

The Philistines again “went to war again with Israel.” (15) Aging David “grew weary” in battle. A descendant of Goliath and a giant himself swears vengeance on David, but “Abishai son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and attacked the Philistine and killed him.” (17a) It’s clear that David’s days as active warrior are at an end and “David’s men swore to him, “You shall not go out with us to battle any longer, so that you do not quench the lamp of Israel.” (17b) So, David retires from the battlefield.

The battles with the Philistines continue who produce more giants “descended from the giants in Gath” (22) , including one with 12 fingers and 12 toes(!). They taunt Israel but all are killed by Israel’s soldiers.

Our takeaway from this chapter is one of unrelenting battles as Israel, under David’s leadership both on and off the battlefield, consolidates its territory and its power. And God continues to be actively involved as David never fails to go to God before he acts.

John 10:34–42: Our gospel writer cannot resist having Jesus explain his actions using scripture. Here, Jesus refutes the assertion that he is a blasphemer by pointing out that the leaders cannot recognize “one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (36).

Once again,  the choice for all who hear (or read about) Jesus is binary: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.”  (37) Or, “if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (38) Unsurprisingly, this assertion of God being within Jesus only enrages the leaders further and they try to arrest Jesus, “but he escaped from their hands.” (39)

Jesus flees to the Jordan and (surprise, surprise), “many believed in him there.” (42) As always, it’s all about belief. However, this belief of the hoi polloi seems  rooted more in Jesus’ miracles than in his words that he is God’s son: “Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” (41)

In his effort to create a lengthy socratic dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders, our gospel writer has created an image of a very didactic Jesus—not unlike the psalmist above. But for me, while this theological side of Jesus is certainly true, this is not the compelling and charismatic Jesus whom we encounter in the synoptics.

 

Psalm 119:105–112; 2 Samuel 19:31–20:26; John 10:22–33

Originally published 10/28/2016. Revised and updated 10/29/2018.

Psalm 119:105–112: This stanza includes the most well known metaphor in this psalm—and one I memorized in 5th grade Sunday School:
A lamp to my feet is Your word
and a light to my path. 
(105)

Understanding that scripture is a guide to live by is crucial not only to the Jewish life, as was our psalmist’s intent here, but to the Christian life as well. Too often, the temptation is to make the bible the end of the Christian life rather than the means. For Christians, Jesus is the end, not the bible. Many well-meaning evangelicals would rather stay inside the safe boundaries of their church studying the bible rather than getting out into the world and living as Jesus would have us live; caring for the widows and bringing justice to the poor.

This metaphor presumes we are walking a winding narrow, often rocky, path through life. More than ever, we need a light to see through the fog and darkness of the culture we live in. Scripture is our guide through life.

The psalmist goes on to observe that life is risky—:something too many people would rather ignore:
My life is at risk at all times,
yet Your teaching I do not forget
. (109)

Our psalmist is not living in cloistered safety, but as we have learned again and again in this lengthy psalm, he is out in the world living among his enemies:
The wicked set a trap for me,
Yet from Your decrees I did not stray. (110a)

And perhaps just as important is that this discipline need not be onerous. Rather, it is a source of well-being:
I inherit Your precepts forever,
for they are my heart’s joy. (111)

Like the psalmist, we can turn to Scripture and review how Jesus is our ever trustworthy Rock—even as the world around us seems to be imploding.

2 Samuel 19:31–20:26: Before David leaves the trans-Jordan to return to Jerusalem, he wishes to have Barzillai the Gileadite,return to Jerusalem with him. This is the man who, “had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man” (19:32)

But Barzilla declines the offer. He is 80 years old and speaks profound words for what it is like to grow old: “Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?” (35) As I approach my 72nd birthday, these words have great resonance for me.

Barzilla’s only request is  to “let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.” (37) David agrees.

We see hints of the enormous national split to come in the future in the confrontation between the people of Israel and those of Judah. Israel is upset that Judah has “stolen away, and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him.” (41) The people of Judah respond that “the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter?” (42) Israel counters that “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us?” (43) This is the same tension between Israel and Judah that eventually splits the nation into two kingdoms. The tension has been present from the beginning. The nation will become increasingly polarized, just as America has become polarized. Will we meet the same fate?

King David is plagued by dissention in the ranks. Having not learned their lesson in the Absalom affair, “the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri, but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.” (20:2) Of course we need to remember that it is the priests and scribes of Judah who are writing this history, so verses such as these ar not unexpected.

Back in Jerusalem, David metes out punishment to the “ten concubines whom he had left to look after the house” (20:3),. He provides for them but locks them away “until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.” (20:3) presumably because having laid with Absalom they are now spoiled goods. One wonders if the concubines could have resisted Absalom, so to our modern sensibilities this seems to be an unfair punishment.

More intrigue follows. David gives orders to capture and kill Sheba. David’s general Amasa apparently abandons David by failing to return after three days with the army. Joab comes across Amasa in the field and believing him to be a traitor, embraces Amasa, seemingly to kiss him in greeting but instead stabs him in the gut.

Joab’s army approaches the town where Sheba is hiding. A woman, realizing that Joab’s army will destroy the city in the battle to capture Sheba: “I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel; you seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel; why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” (20:19)

She tells Joab that she will hand over the head of Sheba in order to avoid the destruction of the city, which she does, thereby saving her city. As the authors point out, she is a wise woman. But also as usual, the authors do not name her. What’s fascinating here is that it is a woman who brings peace through shrewd negotiation. Once again, a woman is a more effective peacemaker than the hot-headed men who surround her.

John 10:22–33: Far more than in the synoptic gospels, John describes the deep tensions that Jesus has created in Jerusalem because of his ambiguous assertions that he is the Messiah that has come directly from God. The “Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (24) But as usual, Jesus does not come right out and assert his messiahship as I’m sure many others had before him. Instead, he tells the Jews, “I have told you, and you do not believe.” (25a) Jesus asserts that the miracles he’s worked should serve as sufficient proof: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (25b) Once again, the overarching theme is that belief is essential. Jesus knows that even if he told them outright they would still doubt. But Jesus does not make this belief come easily.

Knowing that what he’s about to say will anger them further, Jesus tells them “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (26) Here is John’s binary world at its starkest. You’re either inside the sheepfold because you believe in Jesus or you’re not because you don’t believe: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (27)

Jesus again emphasizes his relationship with God the Father: “The Father and I are one.” (30) This angers the crowd even further and they pick up stones to kill Jesus. He calmly replies, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” (32) Someone in the crowd just as calmly replies, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” (33)

So there it is: Jesus is unacceptable to conventional religion. His claims are just too outrageous. Again and again, John is reminding us that we cannot remain on the fence. Either one believes in Jesus or one does not. We pick up the stones or we do not. We cannot rationalize our way out of that decision. Either go through the gate of Jesus into the sheepfold or remain outside. Those who say Jesus is simply a “good teacher” but reject his assertions of messiahship clearly remain outside the fold.

 

Psalm 119:97–104; 2 Samuel 18:31–19:30; John 10:11–21

Originally published 10/27/2016. Revised and updated 10/27/2018.

Psalm 119: 97-104: Our psalmist continues his love poem that is more about loving God’s law than it is about loving God:
How I loved Your teaching,
All day long it was my theme
. (97)

But there’s more than mere infatuation here as he acknowledges the real benefits of following God’s laws:
Your command makes me wiser than my enemies
for it is mine forever.” (98b)

No other person can take God’s gift away from him.

God’s laws also provide deeper insight than any human wisdom:
I have understood more than all my teachers
for Your precepts became my theme. (99)

In other words, it is his singular focus on God’s law whereby
I gained insight more than the elders
for Your decrees I kept.
 (100)

Obviously, the implication here is that his teachers and elders have not been as focused in keeping God’s law as he has. Once again, we see the roots of Pharisaism when our poet begins seeing himself as being superior to others—even those who are ostensibly his betters.

Our psalmist’s religious self-righteousness again peeks out from behind the curtain when he claims a level of moral purity and exclusivity with God not achieved by others:
From Your laws I did not swerve,
for You Yourself instructed me.
 (102)

For me, he becomes downright unctuous as  he declares,
How sweet to my palate Your utterance,
more than honey to my mouth.
 (103)

Happily, we see a more honest version of the poet in the last verse of this stanza:
From Your decrees I gained insight,
therefore I hated all paths of lies.
” (104)

Notice that he hates all ‘paths of lies,” which is the habit of falsity, not merely the lies themselves—a trait rather common in politicians. In fact, for me, that is the chief takeaway of this stanza: when we follow God we are less likely to follow the ‘paths of lies,’

2 Samuel 18:31–19:30: The Cushite arrives at David’s camp. David asks in desperation,“Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (18:32a) The messenger answers with superb diplomacy, complimenting Absalom but simultaneously making it clear that he is dead: “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” (32b) David famously mourns, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33)

David’s mourning dampens the morale of the victorious troops. Joab challenges the king’s public display of emotion, telling David that “You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.” (19:6) Joab goes on to make his point that “if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.” (7) In short, David’s public mourning has put his very bona fides as king at risk.  Joab knows a thing or two about leadership and his words are a striking reminder that leaders must continue to lead despite their personal emotions—even the death of a son.

Meanwhile, the Israelites who had backed Absalom are now without a king. David sends a message to Zadok and his son that the elders of Judah should not hesitate to call him back to the throne. David returns to Jerusalem as king. Servants such as Shimei, who had sided with Absalom, realize they are doomed if David returns.

A certain Abishai asks,“Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” (21) Shemei admits his sin and begs David for mercy, which he grants.

Saul’s grandson (and Jonathan’s son), lame Mephibosheth, whom David has granted a place in the palace, comes to greet David in a disheveled state. David asks, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” (25). M replies that he was deceived by his servant and because of his handicap could not follow David. M throws himself on the mercy of David, who responds generously, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” (29) M declines the offer, saying, “Let [Ziba] take it all, since my lord the king has arrived home safely.” (30)

The common theme through this passage of David receiving the news about Absalom, his mourning, the resumption of his role as king, and his generous acts of mercy all show David as the exemplar of kingly leadership. But we should not forget Joab’s sound advice to David either. The lessons here are completely applicable to any person today in a leadership role—especially in the church. If we were to use the lessons of both Joab and David against politicians today it seems that true leadership no longer exists. Rather, our current situation is more like Israel and Judah under the corrupt kings that followed David and Solomon.

John 10:11–21: One thing we can say about our gospel writer: he never leaves us hanging on Jesus’ often ambiguous statements. Unlike the synoptic writers, John makes every effort to ensure we fully understand Jesus’ metaphors and parables. He certainly does so here. There is no confusion as Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (11)

Religious authorities are mere hired hands, who are not loyal to the people they are supposed to lead: “The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” (13) Again, John gives us a strong hint of Jesus’ fate when Jesus repeats, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” (15)

Clearly, up to this point, the sheep represent the Jews to whom Jesus is preaching. But then Jesus speaks of non-Jewish sheep: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (16a) These ‘other sheep’ are Gentiles and Jesus has come equally for them. Regardless of race or background, all humanity can come to Jesus and “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (16b). Paul (who is actually writing earlier than the gospel writer) of course amplifies this when he says there is no distinction among those to whom Jesus has come: neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free man.

Jesus then provides a strong hint of his impending death and resurrection: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” (17) Perhaps even more startling, he asserts that he is in complete control of this event: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (18a) Our gospel writer is telling us in no uncertain terms that Jesus’ death was not based neither on circumstance nor on human intervention. Jesus’ death and resurrection has been preordained by God himself: “I have received this command from my Father.” (18b)

No wonder many in the crowd though he was a crazy man. But others sensed that because Jesus healed the blind man—up to this point Jesus’ most astounding miracle—that something far greater than a demon-possessed rabbi was at work here. Of course since we know the outcome of the story, we know which side was right.

Psalm 119:89–96; 2 Samuel 18:1–30; John 10:1–10

Originally published 10/26/2016. Revised and updated 10/26/2018.

Psalm 119:89–96: One of the threads running through this lengthy psalm is God as creator. Our psalmist views God’s word as one of the key elements of creation and eternally intertwined in physical nature:
Forever, O Lord,
Your word stands high in the heavens.
For all generations Your faithfulness.
You made the earth firm and it stood.” (89, 90)

God’s laws came into being at the moment of creation and are inextinguishable:
By Your laws they stand this day,
for all are Your servants. (91)

For our psalmist, it is understanding and abiding in God’s law that is an integral part of creation—and which affords rescue:
Had not Your teaching been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction. (92)

Once again, there is supplication. The poet believes he deserves God’s rescue because he has been faithful to God’s law:
I am Yours, O rescue me,
for Your decrees I have sought. (94)

God’s law is not just a part of creation, it transcends it:
For each finite thing I saw an end—
but Your command is exceedingly broad. (96)

God’s laws are intrinsic to creation and expressed in the wonders of particle physics and genetic biology. The more science seeks to understand creation, the more mysteriously wonderful it becomes. Our psalmist is exactly right. Were it not for God’s law expressed through the laws of nature creation could not exist. We are not here by coincidence.

2 Samuel 18:1–30: As Hushai had previously pointed out to Absalom, David is a savvy warrior. He divides his army into thirds and announces he will go into battle with his men. His generals object, stating that David is “worth ten thousand of us.” (3). They ask him to remain at the city, which he agrees to do as “the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands.” (4) However, David instructs his general to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (5) Our authors note that “all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.” (5)

Unsurprisingly, David’s army is victorious and “the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.” (7) As for Absalom, he is riding a donkey which passes under a too-low tree. His neck is caught in the branches as the donkey rides on. The man who saw this informs Joab, who is angry the soldier did not finish off Absalom right there and then. The soldier responds that he had heard David’s command to go gently on his son. Joab will have none of this mercy stuff and tells the man, “I will not waste time like this with you.” (14) as he thrusts three spears into Absalom’s heart.

The battle is over and the troops bury Absalom under “a very great heap of stones.” (17) Zadok’s son Ahimaaz asks Joab if he can deliver the news of Absalom’s death to David. Joab does not allow this and sends a resident alien instead. However, Ahimaaz persists in his desire to bring the news to David and proceeds to run behind the appointed messenger.

David sees Ahimaaz approach and believes that since “He is a good man, and comes with good tidings.” (27) Ahimaaz shouts, “All is well,” and when David asks about Absalom, Ahimaaz replies only that “I saw a great tumult, but I do not know what it was.” (29) Since messengers carrying bad news often met a grim end Ahimaaz is understandably afraid to tell David the truth.

Our authors have expressed an enormous range of human emotion in this brilliantly written story, which is why I believe this is authentic history, albeit written by the victors. We see David’s love for his son even though he has usurped the throne, as well as his optimism when Ahimaaz approaches. We understand Joab’s anger when he kills Absalom for what he believes is unforgivable treason. We witness Ahimaaz’s enthusiasm to bring the news and then his hesitation as he is unable to bring the bad news to David. Human passion and behavior have remained unchanged over the three millennia since these events took place.

John 10:1–10: Our gospel writer moves from the metaphor of the blind and sight to the metaphor of those under the protection of Jesus as our good shepherd. In yet another echo of the underlying binary theme of this gospel—one believes or doesn’t believe—Jesus points out that there is one and only one way to the protection of the sheepfold: through the gate. And “the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (2)

Jesus goes on to describe how the sheep follow the shepherd “because they know his voice.” (4) Moreover, the sheep run from a stranger  “because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (5) Needless to say, this extended metaphor is fairly opaque and his listeners (presumably his disciples) “did not understand what he was saying to them.” (6) [Nor would we at this point.]

So Jesus patiently explains the metaphor: “I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.” (7, 8) This is a shocking statement because John’s Jesus is effectively saying that all of Jewish law and tradition, not to mention the religious leaders are “thieves and bandits.” This assertion certainly seems to fly in the face of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)

As usual, this polarizing statement supports of John’s overarching theme: One believes in Jesus and who he says he is or one does not. Jesus’ next sentence makes this dichotomy abundantly clear: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (9) But all others who purport to speak for God are relegated to the category of usurpers: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  (10a) This was certainly a shot across the bow of the competitors preaching a different gospel in the author’s own community.

If we ever needed a clear statement of the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, we find it here in this brief but luminous statement: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10b) Would that we could strip away all our theological baggage and simply bask in the reality of this transcendent promise.

 

Psalm 119:81–88; 2 Samuel 17; John 9:35–41

Originally published 10/25/2016. Revised and updated 10/25/2018.

Psalm 119:81–88: We arrive at the halfway point of this seemingly endless psalm… The psalmist opens this stanza of supplication with a slightly romantic flavor as he describes his desire for a relationship with God’s word (apparently rather than God himself):
My being longs for Your rescue,
for Your word I hope.
My eyes pine for Your utterance
. (81, 82a).

As we already know, he has endured some kind of trial, whose details he hasn’t revealed. Here, our poet uses a rather arresting simile to describe his ability to follow God’s laws even under the most trying circumstances:
Though I was like a skin-flask in smoke,
Your statutes I did not forget
.” (83)

With this justification of faithfulness, he turns to supplication, wondering when God will give him justice he feels his rectitude has earned: When will You exact justice from my pursuers? (84b)

After all, he argues, unlike him, the evildoers do not follow God’s laws:
The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me,
which are not according to Your teaching.
 (85)

We finally get a glimpse of the psalmist’s heart as he abandons his rational arguments and simply cries out in his pain while he once again states his unwavering faithfulness to God’s word:
For no reason they pursued me—help me!
They nearly put an end to me on earth,
yet I forsook not Your decrees. (86b, 87)

This stanza concludes with a final appeal that God should rescue  him so that he can live in order to continue to obey:
As befits Your kindness give me life,
that I may observe Your mouth’s precept.
 (88)

I think I know what’s bothering me about this psalm. The psalmist seems to desire a relationship with God’s word/ law/ precepts rather than a relationship with God himself. As I’ve observed many times already, the intense focus on word and law rather than on God’s qualities was certainly a foundational document for the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

2 Samuel 17: The traitorous adviser, Ahithophel, has more nastiness toward David up his sleeve as he suggests that Absalom appoint 12,000 men to pursue David and his people. His plan would be to assassinate David only, throwing his followers into panic. He promises, “I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband.” (3) Absalom and “the elders of Israel” are pleased with this suggestion.

Unaware that Hushai is David’s spy, Absalom asks the retainer whether or not Ahithophel’s plan is wise. Hushai replies, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” (8) pointing out that A’s plan is flawed because “your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the troops” (8) Hushai offers an alternative plan: “my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beer-sheba, like the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person.” (11) Absalom prefers this advice and prepares for battle.

Meanwhile, Hushai goes to the priests Zadok and Abiathar and tells them to send two servants to warn David. Unfortunately, the messengers are betrayed to Absalom and forced to hide in a well. Nevertheless, they elude capture and get the word to David, telling him to take his army and cross over the Jordan.

His advice ignored, Ahithophel goes home and hangs himself. Absalom takes his army, crosses the Jordan, and camps in Gilead. Our authors name the people who brings supplies to David’s army as they hide out in the wilderness. The preparations for the battle about to come appear to be complete.

Is there a theological lesson here? Not really. Rather, this story shines a light on negative and positive human qualities. Mendacity and treachery are hardly new to our age. But neither are courage and kindness.

John 9:35–41: John moves to the conclusion of the most symbolically and theologically fraught miracle in all the gospels. Jesus heard that the Pharisees had driven the healed man out of the temple and seeks him out. This is a great reminder that it is Jesus who seeks us out in order to have an relationship with us.

Jesus asks the direct question that is at the foundation of this gospel: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The formerly blind man answers for all of us, for this is the essence of the evangelicum—the Good News: “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” (36)

At this point, John the gospel writer is no longer being symbolic or theologically sophisticated: Jesus’ answer is perfectly direct: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” (37) And John is telling us that the man’s reply must be our reply: “Lord, I believe.” (38). There it is. Three words, and once these words are uttered by the man, he worships Jesus. WHich must be exactly our response 2000 years later.

John draws his theological argument to a close by stating Jesus’ raison d’etre—why he came to earth in the first place: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”(39) Here, blindness and seeing are strictly spiritual. Those who are formerly spiritually blind believe and thereby see Jesus and his salvific power. Those, who like the Pharisees, think they have gained spiritual insight through their own efforts and study (I’m thinking of you, 119 psalmist…) remain blind to the glorious reality of Jesus himself.

The Pharisees who come to Jesus and assert, “We see,” have not found salvation through the “seeing” of theological understanding. Thus, as Jesus informs them, they remain in sin rather than believing in him. It’s so simple that it’s obscure to those who erect elaborate theological scaffolding to discover the way to God. Belief centers on one thing only: That Jesus is who he says he is. And as usual, it’s strictly a binary choice.