Psalm 18:30–36; Genesis 31:22–55; Matthew 11:25–12:8

Psalm 18:30–36: The psalmist, speaking in David’s voice, celebrates his military prowess and gives God all the credit: “For through You I rush at a barrier,/ through my God I can vault a wall.” (30) This is certainly true for the young, well-trained soldier. But even for those of us who are old, the metaphor holds: God is indeed whom we trust to help us confront [“rush at a barrier”] and then overcome the obstacle [“vault a wall”]. Notice especially that we cannot be in denial, but we must acknowledge the reality of the problem we face before we can overcome it.

And there is only one God who can help us do the difficult amidst the welter of the small-g gods around us: “For who is [small-g] god except the Lord,/ and who the Rock except our God?” (32) Only God can aid us in surmounting these obstacles. We do not possess the inner strength ourselves, nor do externalities such a wealth and power or even another human being. The small-g gods all fail in the end.

The psalmist reflects on an ascending list of qualities of the warrior–both actual and metaphorical–that God supplies, “the God who girds me with might,/ and keeps my way blameless:” (33)
• God “makes my legs like a gazelle’s” (34)
• God “trains my hands for combat.” (35a)
• God “makes my arms bend a bow of bronze(!)” (35b)
• “Your battle-cry [we assume this would be shouting the name of God] made me many.” (36b)

God has given us those offensive weapons, but perhaps most important of all is that he has given us a wonderful defensive tool, as well—God’s protection from harm: “You gave me Your shield of rescue.” (36a) In short, trusting in God equips us, as it equipped David to withstand the enemies we encounter and confront. But to enjoy those benefits requires a deep trust in God. Without that we will be naked in the battlefield of life.

Genesis 31:22–5: As we might have guessed, Laban is none too happy about Jacob making off with what he considers to be his property—not to mention robbing him of the possibility of saying goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren. But in the ever-popular dream, God tells Laban, “Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad.” (24) Thus warned, “Laban overtook Jacob” (25) and accuses his son-in-law “You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword.” (26), pointing out that had Jacob not fled in secret, “I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre.” (27)

More significantly, Laban points out Jacob has done “a foolish thing” and that his uncle has the power to destroy Jacob, but that a dream form God prevents him from doing so. Laban also asks, “why did you steal my gods?” (30). Jacob, who is so clever and deceptive in so many ways, finally admits in honesty, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.” (31) To partially make up for his actions, he promises, “anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live.” (32) not knowing that Rachel had stolen them.

Laban searches Jacob’s and Leah’s tent and comes to Rachel’s tent. Rachel hides the gods from Laban by sitting on them and claiming she cannot get up because it’s that time of month. As most men would doubtless do, Laban hurries out of the tent without a word.

By this time, Jacob has regained his usual aggressive manner and tells Laban that he has carried things too far in this search asking, “What is my offense? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me?” (36) and demands that Laban put whatever he’s found in the tents in front of them. Jacob makes his case: “These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.” (41)  Jacob shouts that after all, God is on his side, “God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.” (42) We can see Jacob and Laban staring at each other, realizing it’s a standoff. What should they do now?

Jacob proposes a treaty between them: “Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I; and let it be a witness between you and me.”  (44). The two men build a pile of stones and in Laban’s words they agree “This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm.” Each swears by God and they have dinner together. The next morning, “Laban rose up, and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them; then he departed and returned home.” (55)

So there’s a truce, but the ties between Laban and Jacob have been severed permanently. There is no real peace, only a truce. Because of their endless attempts to outsmart the other, both Laban and Jacob end up losing.  And much has been lost. Leah and Rachel will never see their father again and Laban will never see them or his grandchildren again. Jacob cannot go back, but as we will see, there will be a real problem in going forward. This is what the affairs of men absent an honest trust in God eventually come to: a standoff where no one is really happy. We can see the legacy of this unhappy in the standoff today between Israel and Palestine.

Matthew 11:25–12:8: Jesus says something remarkable and if it was in the hearing of the Pharisees would have left them seething: ““I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (25) But for the rest of us he has beautiful words of encouragement: “ “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Then he adds, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (28, 29)

At first we may wonder why would we want to take on the yoke of Jesus? Why should I follow his rules and carry the burden of faith when I am fully in control of myself? What’s the point of having religion as a crutch and taking on tasks that will only impede my self-actualization? After all, we argue, I am a free person in control of my own destiny.

But there is one enormous fatal flaw in that assertion: we do not realize we are indeed already carrying a heavy yoke. Jesus is not asking us to put on his yoke where there is no yoke. Rather, he’s asking us to trade in the heavy yoke of self-importance and control that’s already on our back—and whose existence we so often deny. In trade, Jesus will give us the far lighter yoke of discipleship. We will come to realize that in following Jesus we have far greater freedom and as he promises, a far lighter burden.

The famous story of Jesus plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath illustrates this freedom that he brings. The Pharisees are rule-bound and condemn all others who do not abide by their rules. But Jesus reminds them that David “entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat,”  (12:4) and also that the law says, “the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless.” (12:5)

If we ever needed an illustration of the lightness of Jesus’ yoke compared to the heavy weight of religiosity it is right here when he makes the promise, quoting Micah, to which we can hold fast: “‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’” (12:7). The yoke of Jesus is mercy and is infinitely lighter than the yoke of rule-bound sacrifice.

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