Psalm 114; 1 Samuel 21:10-22:23; John 4:43-54

Psalm 114: In most psalms, God’s creation is described with majestic grandeur, but in this remembrance of Israel’s story, creation becomes the main player in the drama:

The sea saw and fled,
Jordan turned back.
The mountains danced like rams,
hills like lambs of the flock. (3,4)

The first verse is of course the parting of the sea as Israel fled out of Egypt; the second forty years later as Israel enters Canaan.  The simile of dancing lambs and rams, which at first seems almost humorous, would be a familiar sight just about anywhere in Israel.  And it brings to mind  the presence of sheep on the night of Jesus’ birth where a different celebration took place.

Then in a literary device that I cannot recall seeing anywhere else in the psalms, the psalmist asks a rhetorical question of these same supposedly inanimate, or in the case of the sheep and rams, dumb animals, stated as if they are doing something wrong, which of course they are not because the joy of the earth is so great at what God has done for Israel.

What is wrong with you, sea, that you flee,
Jordan, that you turn back,
mountains, that you dance like rams,
hills like lambs of the flock? (5,6)

Is this just a poetic device or is something deeper going on here?

I think this is a brilliantly fresh way to remind us the power of God and especially of God’s joy expressed in a way we humans could never duplicate as the psalmist reveals it is God who “turns the rock to a pond of water, / flint to a spring of water.” (8) So great is God’s joy with Israel that the normal order of the world–what we expect the world to be like and how we expect it to behave–is turned inside out and upside down. I wonder if this psalm has been set to music?

1 Samuel 21:10-22:23: David is on the run from Saul and escapes to Gath where he plays the madman to escape being killed by the king of Gath. He then flees to the cave of Adullam, where word gets out he is there and all the others, his family and others who were afraid of Saul gather, “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them.” (20:2). David certainly retains his charismatic power. He now has a small army of 400 people.

In the meantime Doeg the Edomite, head of Saul’s servants, reveals to to Saul that David received Goliath’s sword and Saul orders the priests of Nob to come before him. Saul is now completely paranoid, accusing the priests, ““Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, by giving him bread and a sword, and by inquiring of God for him, so that he has risen against me, to lie in wait, as he is doing today?” (20:13) Saul orders his guards to kill the priests. They refuse and Doeg the Edomite does it instead–all 85 priests are killed, together with the entire town of Nob.

This event seems a clear warning to the readers of this history. It is an alien, Doeg, who has infiltrated Saul’s court and killed the priests of God. This is the price of being corrupted by people and beliefs that are alien to what God has commanded for Israel. The people are paying a high price for preferring a king over God’s original plan with the judges.

The scene shifts to David, who says, “I am responsible for the lives of all your father’s house. Stay with me, and do not be afraid; for the one who seeks my life seeks your life; you will be safe with me.” (20:22,23) He is already behaving like the king he will soon become. But the author’s point is clear: David is a man of God and as leader he willingly takes on a leader’s responsibility.

John 4:43-54: Jesus returns to his home turf in Galilee and is immediately confronted by a royal official, who obviously carries some weight, and wishes Jesus to come to his house to heal his son. Jesus refuses, but simply says, “Go; your son will live.” John then tells us “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.” (50) and he finds that his son is indeed healed. And, “So he himself believed, along with his whole household.” (52)

The lesson here is not the miracle itself–and there’s even some ambiguity that this was even a healing miracle, although the father certainly saw it that way. Perhaps the boy was already on the road to recovery. But as John notes, this is a “sign” (Jesus’ second “sign” after the wine incident at Cana).  He is careful not to call it a miracle. John always has a didactic point with each of Jesus’ “signs” that he describes. Here, the issue is belief in the Word. The man believed Jesus by speaking those words would heal his son. That is all it took.

It’s also worth noting that it was Jesus’ words, “your son will live” that were what was efficacious here, not his touch as we see in the synoptics. This is important to the Gospel writer who has introduced Jesus to us as the Word.

This is enormously encouraging for all of us, including John’s listeners, who did not have the advantage of Jesus’ physical presence. Clearly Jesus’ power is not constrained to physical touch; it transcends time and space. What is required of us is honest belief. That, together with Jesus as Word, is sufficient.

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