Psalm 90; Joshua 8:1–29; Luke 12:35–48

Psalm 90: This is the only psalm attributed as a “prayer of Moses, man of God.” It is a reflection on the eternity of God—”For a thousand years in Your eyes/ are like yesterday gone” (4)—as over against the brief lifespan of us humans, who are like the grass that “In the morning it sprouts and passes,/ by evening it withers and dies.” (6)

As far as the poet is concerned, our relationship with God is fraught: “For we are consumed in Your wrath,/ and in Your fury we are dismayed.” (7) We can hide nothing about ourselves, our thoughts, or our actions from God, who exposes everything about us to the light: “You have set our transgressions before You,/ our hidden faults in the light of Your face.” (8)

For me, the centerpiece of the psalm is its most famous lines: “The days of our years are but seventy years,/ and if in great strength, eighty years.”  (10a) As I live now in my 70th year here on earth, this line has special resonance, just as it did for my friend, Verl, who made it to 81 years. I will never again read these lines without thinking of him.

As anyone who has reached this age knows, we cannot but agree with the poet’s almost existential observation that through these years, “their pride is trouble and grief,/ for swiftly cut down, we fly off.” (10b)

But are all our years really nothing more than “trouble and grief?” For the poet they have been because he has been out of relationship with an angry God—”Who can know the strength of your wrath?/ As the fear of You is Your anger.” (11) For him, God is not only angry but absent: “Come back, O Lord! How long?—/ and have pity on Your servants.” (13)

The poem concludes with supplication, asking God to return and to “Sate us in the morn with Your kindness,/ let us sing and rejoice all our days.” (14) The desperate wish is for God’s anger to subside, “And may the sweetness of the Master our God be upon/ and the work of our hands firmly found for us.” (17)

How grateful I am to know that through Jesus Christ we are firmly in God’s love. Our years may be long and our sufferings many, but unlike the psalmist we do not have to plead to an angry God to remember us—evanescent humans that we are.

Joshua 8:1–29: Having learned its collective lesson about the consequences wrought upon an entire nation by the disobedient actions of a single man, Joshua and his army return to Ai. God is playing the role of general as he pronounces the exact strategy Joshua is to use: “Set an ambush against the city, behind it.” (2) Joshua expands on this by the ruse of having the people who are with him march toward Ai and then, “When they come out against us, as before, we shall flee from them.” (6) As far as the men of Ai are concerned, this is simply another Israelite annoyance that as before will be easily defeated. However, when all the warriors are out of the city, “you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city; for the Lord your God will give it into your hand.” (7)

The ruse works perfectly: “When the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the inhabitants of the city, hurried out early in the morning to the meeting place facing the Arabah to meet Israel in battle; but he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city.” (14)

As far as our authors are concerned, God is fully engaged in this battle and is giving the detailed orders to Joshua: “the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.”” (18) Joshua does so and Ai is invaded and set afire. The men of Ai look back and realize they “had no power to flee this way or that,” (20) Joshua continues to hold his sword aloft until “he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.” (26) Only the king remains alive and is brought to Joshua and promptly hanged. Ai and its 12,000 inhabitants are utterly destroyed and is reduced to “a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.” (29)

So, what do we make of this militaristic God who commands the death of thousands besides squirm uncomfortably? My own take on these battles is that they are doubtless based on some historical oral tradition, but that writing hundreds of years later, the authors have firmly inserted God into the story to become part of the national myth that God was on Israel’s side—as long as it obeyed him. Which seems to be the overarching of this book.

Luke 12:35–48: Jesus tells the rather puzzling parable of the faithful slaves, noting, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes.” (37) He then states that “if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” (39) This is obviously self-referential as he concludes, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (40) In short, Israel’s messiah will come from a completely unexpected direction and as events will demonstrate, it is completely unprepared for the manner in which the messiah—the Son of Man—arrives and his nature as suffering servant.

Peter understandably asks if this parable is meant for Jesus’ inner circle or the public. Jesus’ answer is, as usual, ambiguous as he asks, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves?” To me, he seems to be referring to the church—or at least communities of the faithful, such as the one Luke is writing to—after Jesus has gone from them. As always, it’s about working in the Kingdom, “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” (43) Which I will take here as the implied command for all of us who claim to be in the church. We are not just hangers-on; we are workers.

Jesus seems to anticipate that some of the “slaves” will take advantage of the master’s absence: “if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk,…[the master] will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.” (46) Is this an explicit warning to someone in Luke’s community that is creating dissention?

There’s no question that intentionality and responsibility play a role here. If a slave has been misled inadvertently by his leaders, his punishment will be light. But the “slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.” (47) This seems to be a clear indication that those in leadership positions within the Kingdom—the church—bear a greater responsibility. As Jesus famously puts it, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (48)

So, when someone takes on a leadership the in the church such as pastor, he or she bears a greater responsibility to work in the kingdom and to treat those who are led fairly and responsibly.

Speak Your Mind