Psalm 79:9-13; Deuteronomy 7; Luke 6:1-11

Psalm 79:9-13: This psalm opens on a tragic scene: the destruction of the Temple, of Jerusalem, and the massacre of the people:

God, nations have come into Your estate,
they have defiled Your holy temple.
They have turned Jerusalem to ruins.
They have given Your servants’ corpses
as food to the fowl of the heavens,
the flesh of Your faithful to the beasts of the earth. (1,2)

This surely must be a description of the events surrounding the Babylonian conquest in 586BCE. The psalmist understands why this has happened: Israel’s multitudinous sins have brought the nation to destruction. But, he also says, ‘isn’t this enough, God?’ as he asks rhetorically, “How long, O LORD, will You rage forever, Your fury burn like fire?” (5).  It’s now time, he suggests, for God to direct His anger to other nations, particularly the ones who don’t know or worship God: “Pour out Your wrath on the nations / that did not know You and on the kingdoms / that did not call on Your name.” (6)  After all, they’re the ones who have “devoured Jacob and his habitation laid waste.” (7)

As is so often the case, there are two appeals to God in the psalm.  One is the logical one above; the other is a more emotional appeal to God’s mercy; to not having to pay for the crimes of the ancestors, “Do not call to mind against us our forebears’ crimes. Quickly, may Your mercies overtake us,” (8), which quickly evolves to a prayer of supplication and repentance, “Help us, our rescuing God / for Your name’s glory, / and save us and atone for our sins / for the sake of Your name.” (9)

Here is the thing that we always need to remember.  While the psalm may open with the poet shaking his angry fist at God, their is never any question that this same God who has allowed destruction is also a merciful God.  And it is to that mercy the psalmist appeals. This is very different from our modern tendency to say things like, “Well, bad things happened, God didn’t answer my prayers, so what happened to me is His fault. I’ve stopped believing in Him.”  The psalmist never mistakes his agenda for God’s agenda.

Could we stand in the rubble of our destroyed city, amidst then rotting corpses and say, “But we are Your people and the flock that You tend. / We acclaim You forever. / From generation to generation we recount Your praise.”? I’m not very sure I could.

 Deuteronomy 7: This chapter is the promise, which was sadly fulfilled in today’s psalm: “You shall not seal a covenant with them and shall show them no mercy. You shall not intermarry with them. You shall not give your daughter to his son, nor shall you take his daughter for your son. For he will make your son swerve from following  Me, and they will worship other gods, and the LORD’s wrath will flare against you and He will swiftly destroy you.” (3,4)

After telling Israel to show no mercy to those they conquer, God, through Moses, tells them why: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God.” (5) But above all, “But because of the LORD’s love for you…because of His keeping the vow that He swore to your fathers…” (8)”  God has kept His side of the vow, now it’s time for Israel to do the same.

This is the essence of deuteronomic theology, not a quid pro quo; it is a solemn covenant between parties: “it shall come about in consequence of your heeding these laws when you keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep the covenant and the faith for you that he swore to your fathers.” (13)

The last half of the chapter is a call to be courageous in the face of overwhelming odds because,”the LORD your God will cast off these nations from before you little by little.” (22) It will be a long slog, but “the LORD your God will give them before you and panic them with a great panic until they are destroyed.” (24)

I’m struck by the fact that God makes it clear it will be a long and arduous battle.  What a contrast to we American who want to whip in, slaty the enemy and whip out again.  But as we are finding out (again and again), wars that look quick and easy up front, always consume more time, more resources–and more soldiers–than we ever thought possible.  And right here in Deuteronomy is God’s ancient wisdom that we have ignored–and we have paid the price.

Luke 6:1-11:  The Sabbath was indeed holy, a mandated day of rest and no work. Over the years, a great encrustation of rules defining what was allowed and what was proscribed evolved. When challenged, Jesus cites the example of David entering the house of God and taking the brad because he was hungry.  Luke doesn’t have to write, “But David was a special case,” as the Pharisee’s reply. But then Jesus says, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”(5). Luke doesn’t have to tell us that Jesus’ reply was an even greater affront than the mere fact of plucking grain.

That the healing on the sabbath story follows immediately accomplishes two things.  First, it underscores Jesus’ view that the spirit of the sabbath is corrupted when it is bound up in too many niggly rules.  Jesus seems to be saying, “God gave us brains and common sense to interpret God’s intentions. You don’t need to codify it and then spend your time watching like hawks for any offenses.” And where do we see this same pharisitical  behavior today?  In church of course, as we look around at others, too often taking offense at their behavior or what they say.

Second, this is one of the opening salvos in (what I believe to be) Jesus’ carefully orchestrated plan to create a clear contrast between the Pharisees and church officials and himself.  It started in that synagogue in Nazareth, continued at Capernaum and now is beginning to ebar fruit with Luke’s first mention of a potential plot against him: “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (11)


Speak Your Mind