Psalm 119:33-40; 2 Samuel 12; John 8:12-30

Psalm 119:33-40: The theme of this long psalm, repeated through each section, is about both the benefits and obligations of studying God’s Law–which for us heirs of the New Covenant we extend to the Bible as a whole, OT and NT: “Instruct me, LORD, in the way of Your statutes, / that I may keep it without fail.” (33).

But this is far more than instruction or rote memorization. The verse that strike a chord for me is 34: “Give me insight that I may keep Your teaching / and observe it with a whole heart.” The psalmist asks for insight, which is key. Our obligation in studying God’s word is not merely knowledge. We are not asking God to become masters of Bible Trivia or winning “Sword drills.”

Understanding the meaning of the words and ideas is certainly required. But here, the psalmist asks for more: insight. The dictionary defines ‘insight’ as “an instance of apprehending the true nature of a thing, especially through intuitive understanding.” In other words, we are seeking to comprehend the “true nature” of what we are studying.

It seems to me that a key part of that comprehension of “true nature” requires understanding–and accepting–context. Which is why we need to be skeptical of accepting the assertions of people who rattle off lists of verses to justify their position, which they have usually adopted before, rather than after, studying God’s Word. This seems particularly true in trying to apply OT rules and regulations to the modern society in which we live. Far too many assertions absent insight seem to be rattling around.

2 Samuel 12: After committing adultery, and the great sin of sending Uriah to his death in battle, David has taken Uriah’s wife Bathsheba for his own, who has borne a son. Chapter 11 ends with the ominous statement, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” Nathan comes to the king, and telling David what I take to be a parable of a sheep stolen from a poor man by a rich man, David reacts, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.” (5)

David doesn’t get the parable and Nathan responds, ““You are the man!” and a few verses down, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (9) And then the ominous promise, “Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.” (11) The child David has sired by Bathsheba dies. 

As the subsequent history of the kings of Israel proves, Nathan’s prophecy is an effective means for the authors of 2 Samuel to demonstrate the roots of the centuries of trouble that eventually led to the decimation of the northern kingdom and the exile of the southern.

But can we lay the history of Israel at David’s feet? Bathsheba is also Solomon’s mother, so it seems that a blessing also arises from David’s sin. That’s why we need to be careful about asserting that when something bad happens, that it was something God has ordained because of our sin. Where great sin has occurred, there are woeful consequences, but God is still merciful.

John 8:12-30: Unlike the Synoptics, John explores the relationship between Jesus and the Father (never “God”) in great depth. What Jesus says is understandable from this side of the Upper Room Discourse and the Cross, but it had to be completely befuddling to the Pharisees. Jesus talking about two people being required to testify and then saying, “ I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” (18) is puzzling enough. But then he says, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (19) Huh?

We understand that John is describing aspects of the Trinity, and he introduces the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse.  But at this point, I have to believe the Pharisees did not have Jesus arrested because they really had no basis on which to pin a clear charge of blasphemy. They must have stood there with confused looks on their faces: What Jesus was saying was profound but impenetrable to even the brightest among them. John is certainly helpful on this point when he says, “They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.” (27)

The same goes for John’s foretaste of Jesus’ death when Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.” The significance of this prediction of being “lifted up” on the cross is understood only after the fact. Yet, so compelling was Jesus as personality that even if the precise meaning of his words were not clear, John tells us, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” (30).

Even though we now understand retrospectively what Jesus was talking about, I think John is also telling us that we can believe in Jesus even without fully understanding him. Given that John was writing around the time the Gnostics began claiming that the way to spiritual enlightenment was by understanding “secret knowledge,” Joh is telling us that the way to Jesus is not through fully understanding “high theology” but simply believing that what Jesus is say, and who he is is Truth enough.

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