Psalm 59:1-9; Leviticus 27:16-Numbers 1:16; Mark 9:11-29

Psalm 59:1-9  David remains in mortal danger from Saul, who seeks to kill him. Not only does David open this psalm of supplication by getting directly to the point, “Save me from my enemies, my God,  over those who rise against me make me safe.” (1) but there is urgency: “For, look, they lie in wait for my life, the powerful scheme against me.” (2) This is not paranoia as David pleads desperately for his life.  He is innocent: “For no misdeed they rush, aim their bows.”

Having described his situation, David begs God to “Rise toward me and see!” (3) and then demands, “You, LORD, God of armies, God of Israel,  awake to make a reckoning with all the nations.”  The progression in just a few verses from “Save me!” to “Awake” is striking.  David is not being deferential to God, he is pleading, begging, and finally, demanding action.

Then in the second stanza, as if God has already answered his desperate prayer, we see his courage return and with it, the deep connection David has with God as he suddenly begins mocking his enemies, who “mutter like dogs” and “prowl round the town.” (5) His enemies are impotent compared to the greatness of God, who will “laugh at them, You mock the nations.” (7)

Concluding on a note of worship and assurance, “My steadfast God will come to meet me, God will grant me sight of my foes’ defeat.” (9) we see in this shift of tone within in these few verses how David’s prayer is answered as he utters the words.   We always think there’s a time lag between praying and having the prayer answered.  But that’s to assume God is limited by time and space the way we are.  Clearly David did not believe in that constraint–and this psalm is proof that prayer can be answered instantaneously.

Leviticus 27:16-Numbers 1:16  After what seemed like the grand finale of the Covenant in the previous chapter, chapter 27’s collection of miscellaneous laws seems like the editors suddenly uncovered a bunch of laws they meant to add in earlier.  Perhaps working against deadline, they just added them basically as an appendix.  Even the final line of Leviticus, “These are the commands that the LORD charged Moses for the Israelites on Mount Sinai.” (27:34) seems tacked on.

The book of Numbers opens by placing God and Moses in  a real place in real time, “in the Wilderness of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting on the first of the second month in the second year of their going out from Egypt,” (1)  And, true to its title, God tells Moses to take a census.  There is no randomness to this activity; God sets the sex and age limit, starting with the army: “every male by their heads. From twenty years old and up, everyone who goes out in the army in Israel.” (3)

Once again, a reminder that God is indeed in–and cares deeply about– the details.  Something, in our tendency to make God a benevolent abstraction, we too easily forget.

Mark 9:11-29  Jesus puts to rest the apparently popular idea that Elijah would return in triumph to save Israel.  Elijah is a historical figure,not the Messiah.  He has lived and his story has already been written: “I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.” (13)  If you want to read prophecy, Jesus is telling them, then read what Scripture has to say about the Son of Man.

Talk about coming down quickly from a mountaintop experience!  After the awe and presence of God on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus returns to the status quo ante: a big crowd begging for healing and the disciples attempting to heal the little boy. This is one of those times where Jesus’ frustrated humanity shows through clearly: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” (19).  We can almost hear his heavy sigh.  “Thickheaded disciples,”  he must be thinking, “now this…”

Mark uses this story to remind us that it’s about honest, from-the-heart belief, not feigned belief.  Words simply affirming belief are insufficient.  Real belief is deeper and doesn’t come automatically; we must work at it.  We hear Jesus testing the father that way: “If you are able.”  (23) In other words, belief is much, much more than mere acquiescence to a way of thinking or straightforward intellectual assent.  It comes from deep inside, and it comes from the Spirit.  That is why the father desperately says, “Help my belief.”  A short but terribly effective prayer.  Which is the point Jesus makes at the end of this incident, ““This kind can come out only through prayer.” (29) 

Which brings us back to David’s prayer. His belief was so deep; his connection to God so close, that uttering his desperate words in the framework of real belief that God would act instantly answered his prayer.

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