Psalm 68:1-6; Numbers 11; Mark 13:1-13

Psalm 68:1-6   [NOTE: I accidentally commented on this psalm on May 19, thinking I was reading Psalm 66.]  Here are my reflections on psalm 68 in the right place this time!

Psalm 68, a song of praise is rich with imagery and metaphor as the psalmist hymns God in military terms triumphant victor in battle.  All God needs to do is stand up and appear: “Let God arise, let His enemies scatter, and let His foes flee before Him.” (1) The smoke clears and God’s (and David’s) enemies scatter like rats when the light is turned on.  I wonder of Steven Spielberg had this simile in mind when in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis simply melt away at the power of the theophany: “as wax melts before fire, may the wicked perish before God.” (2)

Only the righteous remain and they “rejoice and exult before God, and be gladdened in joy. Sing to God, hymn His name.” (4)  The psalms never let us forget that worship is juxtaposed to every activity of life, including battle.

We are to “Pave the way for the Rider of Clouds,…and exult before Him.” (5)– a memorable image indeed.  But we also must always remember that God is not just the God of the mighty and victorious, but also of the weak: “Father of orphans and widows’ judge, God in His holy abode. God brings the lonely back to their homes, sets free captives in jubilation.”  (6)

It is in this tender mercy for the oppressed is where the God of Israel–our God–is so different from the “small g” gods of David’s time and the “small g” gods of our time.  It is God who cares for the widows and orphans and the weak. The state–the new god we are supposed to trust in, and receive beneficence from, may speak with noble intention, but like all human endeavor it is badly flawed in execution.  Only God in his mercy can truly accomplish both these great and small things.  And our only response is gratitude, singing and worship.

Numbers 11  This chapter is packed with complaining.  First, there is general complaining, which God hears and “His wrath flared and the LORD’s fire burned against them and consumed along the edge of the camp.” (1)  Then there is complaining about the boring menu of manna by “the riffraff that was in their midst [who] felt a craving, and the Israelites, too, again wept and said, “Who will feed us meat?” (4) as they list the menu of tasty things they once enjoyed back in Egypt.  In a remarkable burst of selective memory they say, “we used to eat in Egypt for free” (5), forgetting that the “free” food was at the cost of back-breaking slave labor.

Then Moses complains for a while to God about the heavy burden of leadership, whining, “Did I conceive all this people, did I give  birth to them, that You should say to me, ‘Bear them in your lap, as the guardian bears the infant,’” (11-12).

God responds by promising the people that they will receive meat, rather churlishly noting that they will eat meat for “a month of days…till it comes out of your noses and becomes a loathsome thing to you , inasmuch as you have cast aside the LORD Who is in your midst.” (20)

God also responds to Moses by having him gather 70 elders and sharing the spirit of God among them so that they prophesy, too. But just once. (26)

So, what was the upshot of all this whining?  God certainly grants the desires of the people and of Moses.  The people are buried in dead quail, and Moses doubtless saw that 70 men prophesying at once is mere chaos–a fact underscored by Joshua begging Moses to restrain the final two (Eldad and Medad) who were still running around “prophesying,” which Alter notes probably meant mostly ecstatic utterances and dancing.

The upshot?  Be careful what we complain about and what we ask God for.  He may answer our prayers in a way that illustrates the folly of our desires–just as he did for Moses and the “riffraff” of Israel.

 Mark 13:1-13  Awestruck, one of the disciples (clearly on his first trip to Jerusalem) remarks on the enormous size of the 2nd Temple.  Rather than simply agreeing, Jesus turns prophetic, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (13:2).  Which of course happened in AD70 at the invasion of Titus.

Obviously his words were more than a little disturbing, and the inner disciples “asked him privately,…when will this be accomplished.”  Jesus answers rather obliquely, ““Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” (5-6).  

My own view is that Jesus is referring to the many “prophets” and zealots that were constantly forecasting Israel’s doom and/or its triumph over the Romans.  All of which is a distraction for the core purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Even wars, rumors of wars and natural and manmade disasters are nothing to be afraid of.  The warning for us is also clear: don’t be distracted by trying to figure out the nature second coming or trying to line up every event in revelation with a historical or future human event.  Or by obsessing on the never-ending wars and rumors of wars continually available to us on the cable news channels.

But then Jesus gets personal: “As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them.” (9), which of course is exactly what happens.

Almost parenthetically, Jesus adds, “And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (10), which itself has become a distraction as people believe Jesus can’t come agin until that happens.  Who knows? 

What is true is that carrying the message to all the nations involves persecution, “and you will be hated by all because of my name.” (13).  We should not forget that this part is certainly true historically–and even more true today as persecution of Christians is rampant in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia from the less than benevolent Islamic view of Christianity.  Persecution occurs even in the west, in Europe and North America, albeit by more subtle means than kidnapping and burning down churches.

Speak Your Mind