Psalm 72:12-20; Numbers 24,25; Mark 16:14-Luke 1:4

Psalm 72:12-20  For a psalm celebrating the ascension of King Solomon to the throne, it devotes an extraordinary proportion of its content to the king’s obligations to his most destitute and needy subjects:

For he saves the needy man pleading,
and the lowly who has none to help him.

He pities the poor and the needy,
and the lives of the needy he rescues,

from scheming and outrage redeems them,
and their blood is dear in his sight.

What the king is asked in these verses in  terms of serving his subjects is strikingly close to what David asks for from God in many of his psalms:  That the man who is alone and without recourse will be helped (12) and rescued (13) and that he be protected from those who would scheme against and exploit the poor.

As we are reminded again and again in the OT, and as Jesus speaks and acts, it is to the poor and oppressed that not only kingly duty applies, but it is ours as well. And while Solomon is celebrated for those qualities, alas for the kings of Israel and Judah that followed him, and alas for the innumerable kings and rulers since then who have failed to heed these words.

The central affirmation of this poem, “Long may he live” (15) and “May his name be forever” (17) have certainly been fulfilled since this king from 3000 years ago remains justly celebrated.

And as for us, we can sing the very same psalm regarding our savior, Jesus Christ.

Numbers 24,25  At first glance, Balaam’s third prophetic speech (“oracle”) at the behest of King Balak seems similar to the two that preceded it.  But there is a striking difference: Balaam now looks out over the encampment of Israel and while in the two previous pronouncements, “God put a word in Balaam’s mouth” here “the spirit of God was upon him.” (24:3).  Balaam is no longer just a mouthpiece, but God has completely infiltrated him. And there is nothing ambiguous about what he has to say about Israel: “He consumes nations, his foes, and their bones he does crush and smashes his loins.” (8b).

King Balak will have no more of this–“To hex my enemies did I call you, and, look, you  have done nothing but bless now three times” (11), but Balaam again replies, “That which the LORD speaks to me, it alone can I speak.” (13b).  And then, apparently to make sure Balak gets the point, promptly repeats almost verbatim what he just told the Moabite king, adding some specific prophecies–and he departs.

What to make of Balaam, a professional (to use Alter’s term) hexer?  Proof that God can use any person to carry out his will (and his voice!) and that regardless of what that person’s background or role may be, once the Holy Spirit has rested on him or her, they are truly transformed as it appears Balaam was.

Chapter 25 turns the camera back on Israel, and things are not going well.  In effectively what is a preview of coming attractions, as “the people began to go whoring 1 with the daughters of Moab.” (25:1), not to mention that “the [Israelite] people ate and bowed down to their gods.” (2).  God gives Moses the grisly order to “impale [the chiefs of the people] before the sun” (4), although it doesn’t seem as if this order was carried out.

Instead, Aaron’s grandson, Phineas, spears an Israelite man and Midianite woman while they were having intercourse in “the alcove.”  (Didn’t study this story in Sunday School…)  That limited the punishing scourge afflicting Israel, due we presume, to their whoring and false idol worship, to a mere 20,000.  God decrees to Moses, “Be foes to the Midianites and strike them. For they have been foes to you through their wiles that they practiced upon you.” (18)  Once again we encounter an angry God because Israel has wandered so egregiously from Him.  Alas, much more to come.

 Mark 16:14-Luke 1:4  One of the Moravian puzzles: we read the disputed longer ending of Mark with the introductory verses to Mark.  Seems to suggest that the Gospel story should be told over and over.

Jesus ascends into heaven, and Mark’s concluding verse is the crucial instruction at what is not the end, but the beginning of the story: “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.”  Notice the all-important phrase: “the Lord worked with them.” This certainly suggests a post-Pentecost instruction.  

For me, these five words also say that we do not work for God as employees, as it were, in the Kingdom, but that the Holy Spirit works with us. But for that to be effective, we must abandon our egos and self-centered plans at the entrance.

Luke is the only gospel with a formal dedicatory preface that also tells us for whom the letter is intended: the wonderfully-named Theophilus–“God-lover.”

As an engineer and writer, the phrase “orderly account” resonates strongly.  As I know from previous experience and now for the book I am currently writing, taking a story and rendering it as an “orderly account” is difficult work.  For the Gospel story–a story as significant, as detailed, as fraught with multiple levels of meaning, numerous sub-texts, and its all-important overriding theme and message, mere human agency, even if the writer were a genius, could not cause this to happen. (Shakespeare and Tolstoy look like pikers compared to Luke, especially when we realize his writings include Acts.)  This book could have been written only by the active participation of the Holy Spirit. That is what “inspired by the Holy Spirit” means to me.

And perhaps, this is why the Moravians have us bridge the end of Mark with the beginning of Luke: The Lord, though the Holy Spirit, indeed worked with Luke.


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