Psalm 68:19-27; Numbers 13:17-33; Mark 13:28-37

Psalm 68:19-27   The opening verset says it all: “God is to us a rescuing God. The LORD Master possesses the ways out from death.”  While the next verse turns rather gruesome (“Yes, God will smash His enemies’ heads, the hairy pate of those who walk about in their guilt.” (21)) there is no question that God is a rescuing God in every situation.  Not just rescuing us and giving us victory in battle as the psalmist has it here, but through Jesus Christ, God has rescued us all from death–once and for all.

God also rescues us on a day-to-day basis by forgiving us our multitude of transgressions against others–and from the self-inflicted wounds we make on ourselves.  So often, I’m tempted to say “woe is me” (especially on days like today when this persistent kidney stone has drained me of energy), but then I read that God is my rescuer, making me realize that he is the center of the universe, not my personal problems.

Then, having been rescued and forgiven, I can join the marvelous victory parade–a dynamic form of worship– that is comprised God’s rescued people: “my God’s processions, my King in holiness. The singers came first and then the musicians in the midst of young women beating their drums.” (24, 25)  And we can join in the singing, “In choruses bless God.” (26)  Worship is so much better than sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

Numbers 13:17-33  The spies undertake a 40 day mission into Canaan (40 being the usual symbol for a time of testing, which this assuredly was).  Our writer provides numerous geographical details which certainly underscores the fact they made a thorough exploration.  They come back with a bunch of grapes, as well as pomegranates and dates–all proof of the fecundity of the land, abut which they report, “it’s actually flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” (27)

That was the good news; then the big However: “But mighty is the people that dwells in the land, and the towns are fortified and very big, and also the offspring of the giant we saw there.”  It’s almost as if they added in the business about the offspring of the giant Amalek (Goliath’s ancestor?) to make sure Moses got the point.

Caleb then presents the minority-of-one report: “We will surely go up and take hold of it, for we will surely prevail over it.” (31) But the majority prevails, reiterating the warrior people, fortified cities and giants (“we were in our own eyes like grasshoppers” (33), and then adding ominously, it “is a land that consumes those who dwell in it.”  Clear meaning: if we go there we will die.

If ever we needed a biblical illustration of the clear choice between risk taking and huddling in safety, this is it.  And we will see the consequences of Israel’s choice in the next chapter.  But what of the consequences for us?  How many times have I chickened out, preferring to say nothing when there was a clear opportunity to speak up or act on Jesus’ behalf?  Who or what comprise the scary giants in my life?  Why am I so afraid that the land–or the act–will consume me?

There is unintentional irony in the victory procession in today’s psalm and the spies who would rather remain the wilderness.  Great things cannot be accomplished by staying in camp and staying silent.

Mark 13:28-37  Jesus becomes more specific than ever regarding the timing of these apocalyptic events: “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” (30)   Which leads to my own interpretation that Jesus is referring to the destruction of the Temple in AD70–a cataclysmic event which certainly must have seemed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem that heaven and earth had surely ended.  But which Jesus’ words have most assuredly survived. 

In the end, though, Jesus’ point is not about the exact nature of the event or its timing; it’s about staying awake and aware: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (33).  

This is one of those Jesus sayings that operates at several levels: It’s first a remarkable prophecy about the disciples who prove his point in Gethsemane in just a few days.  It’s also a prophecy of the remarkable events of the Resurrection about to engulf them all.  And it’s a prophecy for the early church and for us regarding Jesus’ eventual return.  

Above all, we don’t have to try to figure all this out; we have only one duty, which Jesus says twice to make sure we get his point: “Keep awake.”  Which turns out to be harder than it might appear at first glance.



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