Psalm 105:16-22; Judges 19; Luke 22:39-51

Psalm 105:16-22: Our psalmist becomes historically very specific, recounting the Joseph story of famine in Egypt, “He sent a man before them—/ as a slave was Joseph sold.” There is a dramatic image of Joseph’s plight that we don’t read in the Genesis story, “They tortured his legs with shackles, / his neck was put in iron,” (18), but then “until the time of his word had come, / the LORD’s utterance that purged him.” (19) It is the utterance of God that frees Joseph, not Joseph’s own words. God is operating through Joseph.

This section concludes with more detail missing from the Genesis story, Pharoah “made him master of his house / and ruler of all his possessions, / to admonish his princes as he desired /and to teach wisdom to his elders.” (21, 22) This is a dramatic picture of Joseph’s power under the Pharaoh. I’m assuming our psalmist is engaging in a bit of dramatic hyperbole here, but making his key point that Joseph’s transformation came through “the utterance of God.”

Which is the point, I think. God uses people in the very worst circumstances to speak and to change not only their won situation, but as with Joseph, an entire country. I suspect there’s a subtext for Israel itself here to recognize that they are God’s people and God will use them. We’ll see where the rest of this psalm takes us.

Judges 19: This story of the unfaithful concubine, who runs home, is eventually found by her Levite master; the Levite, as guest in Gibeah is almost sodomized, the concubine is offered instead; she is gang raped, left for dead, and carried off dead or alive (it’s not clear) by the Levite who then cuts her body into 12 pieces, with each piece being sent to each tribe of Israel. It’s a gruesome, and frankly disgusting story. It’s almost a direct echo of the Lot-in-Sodom story, but with an even bloodier, more appalling ending. Why is it even in the Bible?

It’s worth noting, I think, that the chapter reads like a newspaper story; there is no editorial comment and God is nowhere to be found in the story. It is simply a straightforward account of ugly human behavior on all sides–Jew and gentile.

If we look at this story in larger context, the book of Judges, in many ways, seems to be a compendium of evil human behavior–both by Israel and even more by the surrounding pagan communities of which Gilbeah was one.  It all adds up to a stunning and depressing picture of a world where God seems to be absent and revolting human behavior seems to know no bounds. A picture not that far off from what we read about what is happening in the world today.

Luke 22:39-51: Luke’s account of Jesus prayer leaves out the Garden of Gethsemane altogether. And it is bookended by Jesus’ remark to the disciples, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (40, 46). Here we learn that Jesus’ fervent prayer resulted in “his sweat [that] became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (44). For me the most intriguing aspect of Luke’s version of this final prayer is that Jesus “found them sleeping because of grief.” Here is the first clue that the disciples at last really understood what was going to happen. That their beloved leader was truly going to die and they are heartbroken and exhausted.

But Jesus doesn’t cut them any slack, saying, “Get up and pray.” So, what seems to be Jesus’ recommended antidote for grief and exhaustion? Prayer.

When Judas approaches Jesus to greet him with the betraying kiss, we cannot miss Jesus’ irony when he says, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (48). The disciples’ understandable human reaction is to dispatch the betrayer with a sword thrust, but someone misses and cuts off an ear instead. Here’s the culmination of Jesus’ discourse about purses and swords in the Upper Room. This movement will not live by the sword. Swords are to be put away, “Jesus said, “No more of this!” and he in his final miracle, heals the man’s ear.

How sad, then, that over the centuries in the name of Christianity, so many swords have been wielded. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that we read Jesus’ words with the gruesome story of Gilbeah in mind. Jesus has come to transform the world through his death and resurrection. There is hope for humankind’s bad behavior, for its sins after all.



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