Psalm 17:8–15; Genesis 27:1–29; Matthew 10:1–16

Psalm 17:8–15: Having asserted his righteousness before God, our psalmist gets to the central purpose of his prayer, which is to be rescued from his enemies: “Make Your merices abound, O rescuer of those who shelter/ from foes at Your right hand.” (7) Just to make sure God gets his point, he devotes another verse to the necessity of God’s protection: “Guard me like the apple of the eye,/ in the shadow of Your wings conceal me/ from the wicked who have despoiled me,/ my deadly enemies drawn around me.” (8, 10).

Since this is a “David prayer,” we can visualize David surrounded by Saul’s army or perhaps when he has become king, surrounded by conspirators in his court. In any event, there is a real undercurrent of desperation here. But the poet is not so desperate that he avoids penning one of more memorable descriptions of enemies: “Their fat has covered their heart./ With their dewlaps they speak haughty words.” (10) This image of a fat-covered heart and fat-covered faces speaking brings the image of Charles Laughton or Sidney Greenstreet of Humphrey Bogart movie fame to mind. Or more recently, Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars. It is an arrogant and threatening indolence which David faces—suggesting that his enemies are court conspirators.

The poem’s aspect turns darker as it appears David faces a mortal threat” “My steps they hem in,/ their eyes they cast over the land.” (11) One individual in particular is after him and “He is like a lion longing for prey,/ like the king of beasts lying in wait.” (12) Realizing the enormity of this threat, David’s supplication shifts from seeking God’s protection to seeking God’s action in annihilating the enemy: “Rise, Lord, head him off, bring him down,/ save my life from the wicked with Your sword.” (13) After all, David argues, these are mere humans of little long term consequence to God: “from men, by Your hand, from men,/ from those fleeting of portion in life.” (14a) Once those enemies are taken care of, David can at last face God in peace: “As for me, in justice I behold Your face,/ I take my fill, wide awake, of Your image.” (15)

The question for us is, can we pray for the destruction of our enemies? Based on what Jesus has said, the answer is clearly ‘No.’ Having turned our desires upside down, we are to love these same enemies that the poet wishes destroyed. But we can still seek what David seeks in the last verse: To see God’s justice and wide awake, reflect on God’s face.

Genesis 27:1–29: We come at last to the infamous story of the purloined fatherly blessing. Isaac is old and almost blind. He asks his favorite son, Esau, to go hunt some game for a last dinner: “prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.” (4) Esau leaves to go hunting as the conspiracy commences.

Rebekah turns to her favorite son and tells him ““I heard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food to eat, that I may bless you before the Lord before I die.’” (6,7) So Jacob brings two fresh goats, which Rebekah prepares for ISaac’s dinner. Jacob is not sure this trick will work, fearing he will be cursed rather than blessed. Rebekah famously clothes Jacob in goat skin on his arms and neck. Jacob goes to his father with the savory meat.

But Isaac is suspicious. Dinner is arriving to early and the old man asks, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” (19) Jacob compounds the deception by lying, ““Because the Lord your God granted me success.” (20) Isaac feels the goat skin on Jacob’s arms but is still suspicious: “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” (22) Nevertheless, the ruse works and Isaac asks, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” (26) and then pronounces the blessing which is probably one that was given to every eldest son in that culture:
   “Let peoples serve you,
       and nations bow down to you.
   Be lord over your brothers,
       and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
   Cursed be everyone who curses you,
       and blessed be everyone who blesses you.” (29)

In our egalitarian society it is difficult to imagine the sheer importance and power of the right of primogeniture combined with the power of the fatherly blessing that was essentially a last will and testament. There can be neither amendment nor revocation. The father has spoken.

But what does this story have to do with us? Why does deception lie at the heart of this story–and therefore at the heart of Jacob’s descendants, who become the nation of Israel. I believe the authors are telling us that deception has consequences. Some are good, such as the rise of Israel. Others are far less good. As we will find out, Jacob himself becomes the object of a deception by his own sons. God’s justice is definitely a two-edged sword–and deception becomes a running theme through the remainder of this book.

Matthew 10:1–16: By this time, the roster of Jesus’ inner-circle disciples is full and Matthew helpfully lists them all. For some like Thaddeus, this mention is their one claim to fame in the gospel. Another will be infamous: “and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” (4)

A brilliant leader, Jesus knows that spreading the word about the Kingdom of heaven requires human commitment and participation. He sends the twelve out on as independent agents to minister only to the Jews and to do exactly what he has been doing himself: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” (7, 8a) This is not a paying job: “You received without payment; give without payment.” (8b) This mission is not a job; it is a calling.

One of the most important thing Jesus says here–and what we need to remind ourselves about over and over–is that our mission won’t be 100% successful. Many who hear will reject the opportunity. And we are not to waste time on hopeless causes: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” (14) Of course, those who reject will get theirs in the end: “Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (15)

Finally, just because we are doing God’s work does not mean we leave our brains at the door of the church. Jesus knows there are many risks surrounding this mission and we cannot be foolhardy enthusiasts. People will always be trying to do Jesus’ messengers harm. Therefore Jesus gives perhaps the wisest advice in the gospels about how we are to go about his risky and often dangerous business: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (16)

We are to be merciful and kind on the outside, but also we must constantly be alert to danger. It would be good to see more Christians remember what Jesus said as they too often battle foolishly and unsuccessfully as innocent doves in the culture wars of our time when being wise as serpents in terms of strategy would lead to far more successful outcomes.

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