Psalm 135:13-21; 1 Kings 20:1-21; John 19:12-24

Psalm 135:13-21: The central theme of this psalm is the crucial difference between the living God and all the inanimate idols that people, including us, prefer to worship. The living God can bring up clouds, create lightning and rain, (7) strike down the first born of Egypt (8), and demolish entire nations (10). But most important of all, “the LORD champions His people, /and for His servants He shows change of heart.” (14)

Our psalmist describes these household idols wrought “by human hands” of silver and gold by what they have, but cannot do: “A mouth they have and they do not speak, /eyes they have and they do not see. /Ears they have and they do not hear, / nor is there breath in their mouth.” (16, 17)

Although our psalmist phrases it as an imprecation, “Like them may their makers be, / all who trust in them.” (18), I think the reality is that all who believe these idols to be their gods are already like their idols: lifeless. Because they neither believe nor accept the life-giving power of God.

I think these verses are a beautiful description of us: we are lifeless because we would rather craft our lives and invest our time and energy in the pursuit of the idols of our own time: fame, celebrity, fortune, power–the list is endless–because these idols are fashioned in our own image to remind us that we are the center of the universe, not God. But these lifeless goals that become our lifeless idols consume us and we ourselves become lifeless.

1 Kings 20:1-21: “King Ben-hadad of Aram gathered all his army together” (1) along with 32 other kings and prepares to attack Ahab and all of Israel. Ahab announces he will invade unless Ahab “Delivers to me your silver and gold, your wives and children.” (5)  Ahab complies, but sends the message back to Ben-hadad that he cannot abide braggadocio, and says, “One who puts on armor should not brag like one who takes it off.” (11). Ben-Hadad is drunk when he receives the message and says to his men, “Take your positions!”

Meantime, “a certain prophet” (Elisha?) tells Ahab, “Look, I will give it [the battle] into your hand today; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (13) Ahab asks how he will know and the “certain prophet” replies, that he should send “young men who served the district governors,” saying, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; if they have come out for war, take them alive.” (18) But it was too late for peace negotiations, and the battle is won by Ahab anyway who, “attacked the horses and chariots, and defeated the Arameans with a great slaughter.” (21)

So, what to make of this–and why is it recorded in such detail here? Perhaps the lesson is as simple as if you’re going to go to war, don’t do so while drunk.

John 19:12-24:  Pilate is still trying to get off the hook by releasing Jesus, but the Jews will have none of it, trumping up the false charge that Jesus has claimed to be a king and that is sedition against not just Pilate, but the Emperor of Rome himself, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” (15) Pilate relents, and John makes it clear that as a legal nicety, Pilate has “an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” ” (19). Of course no one–Pilate, the Jewish leaders or anyone in the crowd–realizes the magnificent irony of this sign. Because Jesus in not only King of the Jews, he is King of all.

I have never quite understood Pilate’s statement, which must be the response to a question about the sign that John does not record: “What I have written I have written.” But there’s no question that those fateful words, “King of the Jews” have echoed through history ever since. Jesus is indeed King.

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