Psalm 15; Genesis 23:1–24:25; Matthew 8:23–34

Psalm 15: This short psalm is a relief from the reflections on evil that its predecessors have focused on. Instead, it limns the qualities of the righteous in the answer to the rhetorical question, “Lord, who will sojourn in Your tent,/ who will dwell on Your holy mountain,” (1). Which of course is a reference to those who are qualified to worship at the temple in Jerusalem.

There are no metaphors in this psalm, just the all-important yet simple list of the moral attributes of the righteous person.  “He who walks blameless/ and does justice/ and speaks truth in his heart.” (2) The phrase, “speaks truth in his heart” informs us that the first requirement is that we are honest with ourselves neither deluding ourselves nor being in denial. (And we all know how challenging that is!)

As always, what we say and do to others is the crucial expression of the honesty already in our heart, here stated as negatives: “Who slanders not with his tongue/ nor does evil to his fellow man/ nor  bears reproach for his kin.” (3) The righteous man is capable of clear judgement and sees wrongdoing for what it is: “The debased in his eyes is repugnant/ but to Lord-fearers he accords honor. (4a)

The righteous man keeps his promises: “When he vows to his fellow man,/ he does not revoke it.” (4b). And finally and perhaps most difficult for many, “His money he does not give at interest.” This seems to be a clear injunction against usury, but we cannot avoid the implication that money we lend to our relatives and friends is interest-free. Finally, “no bribe for the innocent he takes,” (5a) i.e., he is not bribed to testify in court against a person he knows to be innocent.

The simple conclusion: “He who does these/ will never stumble.” (5b) Of course, for all of us performing well and consistently is far  easier said than done. But it’s nice to have this handy list.

Genesis 23:1–24:25: Sarah, aged 127 years, dies before her husband, and “Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” (23:2). The patriarch has been living among the Hittites as a resident alien, but now it is necessary to bury Sarah there and he does not own any land. The Hittites deeply respect Abraham and tell him to “Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold from you any burial ground for burying your dead.” (23:6). But Abraham politely declines because has his mind set on the cave of Machpelah, which is owned by a certain Ephron. Abraham is willing to pay full price, but Ephron offers it to him free.  But Abraham insists on paying the 400 shekels even though it’s a mere pittance to Ephron. And he does so publicly “in the hearing of the Hittites” (16) as his witnesses. This was no secret transaction. And “Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it passed from the Hittites into Abraham’s possession as a burying place.” (23:19, 20)

So why is it so important to Abraham to buy this land and so important to the editors to consume an entire chapter telling this story? I think it is because it justifies Israel’s claim on the land of Canaan as their own. After all, Abraham had bought and paid for it. In other words, then the Israelites eventually return to Canaan they are morally and legally justified in seizing it from its inhabitants, who are in effect dwelling illegally on property bought and paid for by Israel’s patriarch.

One of the qualities we can assert about Abraham is his desire for complete control. It’s time for Isaac to marry and Abraham is determined to make sure his son does not marry a Canaanite. He calls his servant to return to bring back a wife for Isaac from his native land. The servant notes this will be difficult and it might be better “to take your son back to the land from which you came.” (24:5) Abraham rejects that because “the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’” (7) Once again, the editors are making it clear to all that Canaan is the new land of the Patriarch’s offspring.

After sealing the vow with the odd and somewhat repulsive gesture of the servant putting his hand under Abraham’s thigh, the servant departs. He arrives in Nahor, understandably puzzled about how he is going to find a wife for Isaac, and prays, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.” (14:12) and creates a scenario of asking for a drink of water and the girl who replies, “‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.” (24:14)

Lo, and behold, Rebekah does exactly that. Even better, the “girl was very fair to look upon, a virgin, whom no man had known.” (16) The servant (who really should at least have been named because of all the great work he’s done here) is convinced that Rebekah is the woman for Isaac. He pulls out a gold nose ring and two large gold bracelets and asks to see her father. Rebekah kindly offers him a place for the night.

So, why all this detail about finding Isaac’s wife? Because as we will see, she will become the mother of the Israelites. This is an extremely important detail in their national story and as we see in another virgin who comes many centuries later, the purity and virtue of motherhood is exceedingly important.

Matthew 8:23–34: Jesus is catching some shut-eye won Peter’s boat when the famous storm comes up. The others are terrified and cry for help: “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jesus, after telling them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (26) promptly quells the storm to the amazement of his disciples. We assume this is the same storm that appears in Luke but here there is no walking on water.

This power is on display again when Jesus heals the two demoniacs and sends the demons into the pigs, which famously jump off the cliff. The swineherders are non too pleased and run back and tell the townspeople about what happened. The townspeople “begged him to leave their neighborhood.” (34)

By juxtaposing these two events, Matthew is demonstrating that this Jesus fellow was much more than a miracle-healing itinerant rabbi. He has power over the earth (the storm) and the principalities and power under the earth (the demons). It important that this evidence comes early in the story to underscore just how great this Messiah is and gives us the larger framework for events yet to come in this gospel.

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