Psalm 104:19–23; Judges 11:1–27; Luke 20:41–21:4

Psalm 104:19–23: Our psalmist, who has observed nature extremely carefully, turns to describe how the sun and moon have been ordered by God to create the rhythms of animal and human life: “He made the moon for the fixed seasons;/ the sun—He appointed its setting.” (19) This rhythm accounts for the nocturnal behavior of animals: “You bring down darkness and it turns to night/ in which all the beasts of the forests stir.” (20)

He provides one dramatic example of the movements of a nocturnal beast: “The lions roar for prey,/ seeking from God their food.” (21) In a demonstration of God’s orderly creation, as the lions returns to its den after being on the prowl all night, diurnal man gets up and goes to work:

When the sun comes up, they head home,
and in their dens they lie down.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until evening.” (22,23)

The underlying message here is that God has been intentional. Man works while the lion sleeps and they avoid each other. The psalmist is clear: this has been planned out by God; there is nothing random about creation. When I head out into nature on a photographic journey this God-defined orderliness presents itself in numerous ways. We are indeed fortunate to dwell in a God-created world. However, when humankind despoils creation then ugliness trumps beauty.

Judges 11:1–27: One of the underlying themes of the OT is that men and women born of low estate often turn out to be the greatest leaders. While the story of Jephthah is not taught in Sunday school or appears in any lectionary reading, his story is inspiring. It demonstrates that the supposed wise leaders can be foolish while those who are rejected are used by God.

Jephthah is the son of a prostitute but also “a mighty warrior.” (1) Fathered illegitimately by Gilead, the father’s two legitimate sons “drove Jephthah away, saying to him, “You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.’” (2)Jephthah becomes a successful outlaw.

The Ammonites begin to make war against Israel. Somebody remembers Jephthah’s gifts as a warrior and they ask him back, begging him to command the Israelite army. He correctly points out that these are the same people who drove him away and now they want his help. The warrior finally agrees on the condition that “If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” (9) They agree.

Rather than rushing to battle, Jepthah, who is clearly wiser than the others, sends a messenger to the Ammonite king asking, “What is there between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” (12). The Ammonites reply that “Israel, on coming from Egypt, took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” (13)

Jepthah responds with a history lesson of what actually happened several hundred years earlier. Israel obeyed the kings of Edom and Moab in their refusal to allow Israel to enter their land. But when Israel entreated Sihon to allow them to pass through peaceably, Sihon, king of the Amorites, “gathered all his people together, and encamped at Jahaz, and fought with Israel.” (20) Jephthah points out that Israel defeated the Amorites and therefore by the rules of war, the land legitimately belongs to Israel. He concludes, “It is not I who have sinned against you, but you are the one who does me wrong by making war on me.” (27) And says that God will decide who wins the battle about to begin.

What’s fascinating here is that Jepthah employs diplomacy rather than immediately heading off to battle. The Amorite king can gracefully acknowledge Israel’s claim or he can go to war. Our authors are making it abundantly clear that Israel’s claim on Canaan is legitimate. The parallels to today’s conflict between Israel and Palestine are striking. Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967, but is being forced to cede that territory. I’m sure the story of Jephthah is widely known there if not here in America.

Luke 20:41–21:4: At first glance the answer to the question, “How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son?” (41) appears nonsensical. After all, David reigned more than 1000 years ago, so the Messiah certianly cannot be David’s human son. Jesus answers the question by quoting a psalm attributed to David: “David himself says in the book of Psalms,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ (42, 43)

Jesus asks rhetorically, “David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” (44) In other words, the Messiah, David’s “son,” is far greater than a human son—and far greater than David himself, who acknowledges the lordship of the Messiah in his very own psalm. This claim that Jesus has made for himself will only further enrage the Pharisees and scribes.

Fully understanding their enmity and that he has nothing to lose, Jesus goes on to chastise the hypocrisy of the religious leaders: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets.” (46) But even worse is that they disobey God’s injunctions to show kindness and generosity to the widows and orphans: “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” (47a) And for this egregious sin, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” (47b)

To demonstrate his point, and to underscore the theme throughout the OT, Jesus observes that the widow who contributed all she had to the treasury, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.” (3).

This is one of those places where we see that Luke is deeply concerned about social equity and through Jesus’ words the gospel writer castigates  those in power who oppress those without power. It is also where I have come to see that our primary duty as workers in the Kingdom is to bring justice to the poor and oppressed. Our duty is much less about evangelism that focuses on “saving others.” That’s the job of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Our efforts to serve the poor simply pave the way for Jesus to work in the hearts of those who do not know him.

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