Psalm 107:33-43; 1 Samuel 11,12; John 1:29-42

Psalm 107:33-43: The psalmist continues the theme of God and His interactions with His creation. What God has give He can take away: “He turns rivers into wilderness / and springs of water into thirsty ground,” (33). And in an image reminiscent of the American west: “fruitful land into salt flats,” (34). The reason is clear: “because of the evil of those who dwell there.” (34b). This deuteronmic construction that evil done by humankind results in deserts is completely applicable today as we waste water in the desert on golf courses, lawns, and thirsty crops such as cotton.

As God takes away, so too, He can give: “He turns wilderness to pools of water, / and parched land to springs of water, / and settles there the hungry.” (35, 36) Our role is to use these resources diligently, “they sow fields and they plant vineyards, / which produce a fruitful yield. And He blesses them and they multiply greatly.” Here, stewardship of the earth must include following God’s will for us.

The psalm concludes with one of the core themes of the OT. The contrast between rich and poor. For their greediness and for ignoring God, “He pours contempt upon the princes, / and makes them wander in trackless waste.”(4).  But the for the poor, “He raises the needy from affliction, and increases his clans like flocks.” (41). And like so many psalms, it ends with speech and song, once again held in tension: “Let the upright see and rejoice, and all wickedness shut its mouth.” (43)

Rarely has a psalm so tightly intertwined God, His creation and the actions of both the wise and the wicked. We must remember: we do not act as independent creatures of either God or nature. What we do has consequences up to heaven.

1 Samuel 11,12: The newly-anointed but not yet coronated Saul proves his mettle in battle. Jabesh-gilead has been cut off from Israel by the Ammonites. When word comes to Saul he promptly cuts his yoke of oxen in pieces and distributes the pieces across Israel. (Like the grisly murder of the concubine in Judges 19, cutting up meat and distributing it is apparently the clarion call to raise an army.)  This time an army of 370,00(!) men is raised. Saul gets word to Jabesh-gilead that he will help them. The Ammonites are defeated and Saul has proved his kingly worth to the people–to the extent that his partisans want to kill anyone who doubted Saul’s worthiness as King. Samuel crowns Saul kings–and things seem to start off swimmingly. But then, we’re all enthusiastic on Inauguration Day, as well.  The real tests come later.

Samuel gives his farewell address. Unlike Moses in Joshua, it much more personal, “See, it is the king who leads you now; I am old and gray, … I have led you from my youth until this day.” (10:2) He also asserts that he had judged honestly, “whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it?” (10:3). Then, Samuel retraces Israel’s history. But the centerpiece of his speech is the warning that will echo down through Israel’s history up to the time they are captured by the Babylonians: “If you will fear the Lord and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be wel,” (10:14).

Note the the responsibility to follow God is up to both the people and the king. If one or the other is corrupt, then the last words of Samuel’s speech, “you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” (10:25). Today, we tend to blame our leaders for our woes, but as Samuel makes clear there is a dual responsibility. We are as responsible for the fate of our nation as our leaders are. We forget this simple rule at our peril. That we have societally abandoned God does not bode well for the long run.

John 1:29-42: The meeting between Jesus and John the Baptist is quite different than as it’s described in the synoptics. First, John affirms Jesus’ preexistence as the gospel writer described it in the opening verses: “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ (30). And then, we find that rather than being cousins, John doesn’t even know Jesus: “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (33) Here, we see the centrality of the Holy Spirit in both John’s and Jesus’ ministry. Absent the Holy Spirit, John would never have recognized Jesus. And remarkably, God remains silent in John’s telling.

And that’s the lesson for us: Jesus comes to us through the working of the Holy Spirit.  And with John, may we be able to say, “And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (34)

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