Psalm 9:1–10; Genesis 12:10–13:18; Matthew 5:27–42

Psalm 9:1–10: Alter informs us that “this psalm and the next one are a striking testimony to the scrambling in textual transmission that, unfortunately, a good many of the psalms have suffered.” Nevertheless, the tone of praise to God comes through clearly, along with one of those lines that we hear all the time: “Let me rejoice and be glad in You.” (3a).

However, we rarely hear exactly what the psalmist is rejoicing about because it’s really not very nice: “…let me hymn Your name, Most High,/ when my enemies turn back,/ when they stumble and perish before You.” (3b, 4) This rejoicing in God’s justice which included victory for the psalmist’s side and the a vanquished enemy persists for the next several verses: “You rebuked the nations,/destroyed the wicked,/ their name You wiped out forever.” (6)

In the same way that genealogies are the repository for preserving the memories of dead individuals, so too entire nations. Thus the psalmist takes special pleasure in noting that “The enemy–ruins that are gone for all time,/ and towns you smashed, their name is lost.” (7) Having lost their names, it’s as if these places never existed.

Unlike these forgotten people, towns, and nations, God’s justice is infinite in extent: “the Lord is forever enthroned,/ makes His throne for justice unshaken./ He judges the world in righteousness,/ lays down the law to the nations in truth.” (8,9) For this psalmist it’s all about God’s righteousness and justice. Which as we’ve seen thus far in Genesis–and will see through the entire OT–is God’s major quality. For Israel, God’s love always seems to come in at second place.

Genesis 12:10–13:18: There’s a famine in Canaan and Abram travels with Sarai down to wealthy Egypt. Afraid that the Egyptians will kill him in order to take beautiful Sarai as some Egyptian’s wife, Abram instructs Sarai to say she’s her sister. Nevertheless, Pharaoh “was taken into Pharaoh’s house And for her sake he dealt well with Abram. (12:16). However, all the male intentions here were suspect and Pharaoh gets sick and generally upset, asking Abram, “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.” (12:20)

Why is this odd story here? It is an almost one-for-one foreshadowing of Israel’s history several generations later when there’s a famine, and Jacob’s entire family ends up in Egypt. As with Abram, things are good at first, but then Abram’s deception leads to the Pharaoh getting sick. Another deception happens hundreds of years later when Moses and his mother wind up in Pharaoh’s court. I’ll take Pharaoh’s sickness as a parallel to the plagues that finally result in the same end. As Abram is sent away from Egypt, so too the Jews. Here in Genesis we have a clear echo of Israel’s national story.

Abram, Sarai, and his nephew Lot end up in the Negeb, and then back to Bethel. However, both Abram and Lot were wealthy–wealth being measured in heads of livestock and “Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them living together.” (13:6). There’s an amicable parting between Abram and Lot. Abram settles in Canaan and “Lot journeyed eastward” heading as we will find out shortly, to city life in Sodom.

Once Lot has left the scene, God comes to Abraham and makes the Grand Promise: “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” (13:16),. The second half of the promise concerns land, specifically Canaan: “Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (13:17).  This promise is here because it is Israel’s justification to take over the Canaan when they return from Egypt centuries later. Abram has prior claim on Canaan from God and thus it becomes the Promised Land.

What subsequent history proves of course is that God keep his side of the promise. As for Israel–and all of us for that matter–we’re somewhat less reliable.

Matthew 5:27–42: Jesus continues to provide his radical–and I presume unprecedented–interpretation of the Law using the famous phrase, “You have heard that it was said/ But I say” construction. And Jesus does not hesitate to take up the tough issues that vexed society then, just as it does today.

Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (28), which of course is exactly the statement that got Jimmy Carter into trouble in the 1970’s when he stated this passage and “enlightened society” came down around his head. Both Jimmy and Jesus are right of course. And as Bill Clinton so ably proved in 1998, we’d much rather have a president who commits adultery than one who tells us not to.

Perhaps the hardest one of all is Jesus’ redefinition of divorce: “anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (31) The Catholic Church takes these words at face value, even now in the 21st century. And I have to say, we Protestants who have gone to all sorts of interpretive lengths to alter Jesus’ rather clear meaning in the end frankly are not on the side of what Jesus is saying so clearly here. The Catholic CHurch is right and we Americans don’t like it one bit.

Yes, I know there are all sorts of highly justifiable reasons for divorce, but at least as I read it here, Jesus is saying bluntly, “OK, go ahead and divorce. Just remember you’re committing adultery.” Not something we like to hear from our ostensibly loving God and Jesus as our friend. But there it sits.

My particular favorite is what Jesus says about oaths. Don’t swear on heaven or your head. In fact don’t swear on anything at all since it’s definitely broadcasting that you’re looking for an escape hatch out of your oath. Just “let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.'” (37) Don’t elaborate and don’t invent complicated scenarios and don’t lie. When I’ve tried to evade an Yes or No answer I just get in deeper. I completely agree with Jesus when he says that elaborating, “it comes from the evil one.” If Jesus were using today’s jargon,  I’m pretty sure he’s say, “Don’t waffle.” Like everything else Jesus said, it’s never really that easy.


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