Psalm 92; Joshua 10:1-28; Luke 13:1-17

Psalm 92:9-15: The superscription of this psalm indicates it is a psalm of thanksgiving to be sung on the Sabbath. Worship is our response when we realize the greatness of God: “It is good to acclaim the LORD / and to hymn to Your name, Most High,/ to tell in the morning Your kindness,” (1,2) Unlike the small-g gods–idols–the God we worship is not passive, but active throughout His creation–and that is the reason for we respond so happily: “For You made me rejoice, LORD, through Your acts, / of the work of Your hands I sing in gladness.” (4)

The larger theme of the psalm then emerges: “How great Your works, O LORD, Your designs are very deep.” (5) I take “deep” not only describing the complexity of creation, but also as “beyond our understanding.”  One of the things most difficult to understand is why evil seems ascendent and evildoers seem to be winning. But as the psalmist reminded us, in God’s larger picture, His justice will prevail: “the wicked spring up like grass, / and all the wrongdoers flourish /— to be destroyed for all time.” (7). And again, “Your enemies perish, / all the wrongdoers are scattered.” (9).

Ultimately, the righteous prevail and in one of those great psalmic metaphors, “The righteous man springs up like the palm tree, / like the Lebanon cedar he towers.” (12) Not only prevail, but righteousness will grow stronger and taller than evil because we are “Planted in the house of the LORD, / in the courts of our God they flourish.” (14). Through Jesus Christ we are “planted” to grow in righteousness.

Even when all around us appears lost, Jesus, our Great Hope, is steadfast, and therefore, so are we, with a special encouragement for those of us rocketing into old age: “They bear fruit still in old age, / fresh and full of sap they are,” (14)

Joshua 10:1-28: Joshua has made peace with the Gibeonites and they have allied themselves with Israel. The five kings of the Amorites understand the threat want to end this alliance quickly. The Gibeonites ask Joshua for help. The army of Israel attacks by surprise and “the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who inflicted a great slaughter on them at Gibeon” (10) God has joined the battle and “the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died;” (11)

Joshua prays to God, ““Sun, stand still at Gibeon, /and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.” (12) So, did the sun stand still or did it just appear to stand still as Israel fought the five kings? Although God can do anything He pleases with creation, my view is that God did not suspend the laws of physics, but that time appeared to stand still as the battle continued.

More significant to me, anyway, is the statement, “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice; for the Lord fought with Israel.” (14) The implication seems to be this is the only time that God responded to a human prayer, which we know to be untrue. If the meaning is this is the only time that God suspended the laws of physics, then the assertion makes sense. 

The other thing that’s clear, God is definitely on the side of Israel, and remarkable things happen. Joshua did not pray to ask God to be there for Israel; He already was. Joshua knew that, but he still prayed. We would do well to remember that God is there for us, as well. But we should still pray.

Luke 13:1-17: Jesus continues to upend the sociological and theological status quo, first stating that there’s no correlation between a person’s goodness or badness and whatever fate they meet. The victims of the fallen tower died because the tower fell, not as a result of their personal conduct or status.

The parable of the fig tree is a clear message that as God’s people we are called to work in the Kingdom and bear fruit. This is another revocation of the idea that social status determines our favor or disfavor before God. The Pharisees and Temple leaders ascribed their inherent superiority before God to their status as “true practitioners” of the Law.  Those of lower status, such as the woman Jesus healed, were obviously less favored. Jesus puts forward the revolutionary idea that what God is looking for is the fruit that we bear, not our status.

The parable also includes a clear message of grace: “‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (8,9) We are constantly being given second chances by God. We need to recognize that and act on the grace we have been given.

Finally, the contentious issue of “work” on the Sabbath. How quick we are to try to draw clear boundaries about what is acceptable and unacceptable before God. As always, it’s about who’s in control. We would rather establish our own rules and call them “God’s rules” rather than show grace.  It’s also about rigidity–something at which too many churches excel.  I well remember being questioned about my choice to attend a “secular” university rather than going to the “Christian college” run by the denomination.  Yes, there need to be boundaries in life, but God has graciously given boundaries that affirm rather than deny.

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