Psalm 105:8–15; Judges 16,17; Luke 22:14–23

Psalm 105:8–15: At this point our poet launches into one of the most detailed histories of Israel that we find in the Psalms. Just as God recalls exactly what has happened across the ages, the psalmist will provide the same service for his listeners: “He recalls His pact forever—/ the word He ordained for a thousand generations—” (8) The ‘pact’ of course is the covenant which God “sealed with Abraham,/ and His vow to Isaac,/ and He set  it for Jacob as a statute,/ for Israel…” (9, 10)

The psalmist then proceeds to tell us exactly what God’s promise was: “to you will I give the land of Canaan/ as the plot of your estate,” (11). Interestingly, he does not mention Israel’s side of the Covenant, which is to worship only God and obey his commands.

Our poet reaches back in time to “when they [Abraham’s descendants] were a handful of men,” (12a) and implies their precarious state because they were “but a few, sojourners there.” (12b). This beautiful verse nicely parallels what’s written in Peter’s epistle about Christians being only aliens and sojourners in the world.

The early wanderings of this small band, such as the time , are implied in the next verse, emphasizing the idea of being wandering aliens among well-rooted tribes: “And they went about from nation to nation,/ from one kingdom to another people.” (13) In these early days God was their protector and “He allowed no man to oppress them/ and warned kings on their account.” (14) Who are these kings? One of them was doubtless Pharaoh, who was punished with “great plagues” because he took Sarai “into his house” and doubtless has his way with her when Abraham went to Egypt because of famine in Canaan (Genesis 12).

Our poet emphasizes this aspect of God warning other kings and tribes with God saying, “Touch not My anointed ones,/ and to my prophets do no harm.” (15) Which when we think about it is exactly what God did from the time of Abraham through Joseph. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this statement applies equally to Israel in captivity in Babylon, which is probably around the time this psalm was written.

Judges 16,17: The story of Samson and Delilah involves sex, lies, betrayal, imprisonment, torture, and an exciting climax, so it’s no wonder Hollywood has been exploiting this passionate story for so long.

After Samson demonstrates his bona fides at Gaza by pulling up the city gates and carrying them to the top of a hill, “he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.” (16:4) The Philistines are anxious to know the source of Samson’s strength, so that “we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him” (5). Delilah agrees for the price of 1100 pieces of silver. [Interesting how money involved in Biblical betrayals seems to be ‘pieces of silver.’]

Samson seems to know her game and he lies to her, saying, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” (7) That doesn’t work and an angry Delilah asks again. This time, Samson tells her to bind him with new rope.  Delilah shouts “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!…but he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.” (12) Delilah’s third effort involving, but not cutting, his hair fails as well.

But Delilah is nothing if not relentless and she nags Samson to the point where he finally reveals his secret. We know the rest of the story: Samson is captured, blinded, made into a slave, grinding at the prison mill as his hair grows back. Brought into as entertainment at a party attended by 3000 people, Samson “called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” (28) Which he famously does.

So why is this obviously unhistorical story in the book? Because it’s a ripping good yarn. But as an explication of the theology of betrayal and revenge it’s pretty marginal. For me, the main lesson of Samson is that even at our weakest, God is the source of our strength if we have abandoned all other pretences and come to him in the humility of the blinded Samson.

There must be something symbolic about 1100 pieces of silver because we encounter the same amount again in the story of a certain Micah [obviously not the prophet of the eponymous book later in the OT], who has come into possession of the same 1100 pieces taken from her earlier and which she cursed. Perhaps the unnamed mother is the widowed Delilah. The son returns the silver to his mother, who promptly uses 200 of the metal to have an idol “of cast metal” for her. The son “had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim, and installed one of his sons, who became his priest.” (17:5) Our authors drily note, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (17:6)

A young Levite from Bethlehem(!) is in the neighborhood. Wandering from city to city looking for work, he agrees to take on the priest job when Micah promises him “ten pieces of silver a year, a set of clothes, and your living.” (10) The Levite agrees and the story ends as Micah utters some really bad theology, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.” (13)

Why is this story of a Jew making an idol and then hiring a Levite as the idol’s priest in here? I think the authors wanted to provide a close-up view of just how easy it was for the Jews to slip away from worshipping God to worshipping an idol. And even though the Levites were the designated priesthood, they slipped into disobedience just as adroitly as anyone else.

Luke 22:14–23: Luke’s description of the last supper opens with Jesus’ rather mysterious words,I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (15, 16) Unlike John’s gospel where four chapters of dialog, deep theology, and the High Priestly Prayer at this same meal, Luke provides us only this fraught and enigmatic statement. 

Rather than dialog, Jesus speaks the famous words that have been repeated down through the ages whenever the Eucharist occurs: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (19, 20)

However, the drama of betrayal is brought front and center when immediately following the words of institution, Jesus says, “But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.” (21) Luke makes sure that we know that Jesus knows what fate awaits him: “For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined,” (22a). But then, “woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” (22b). This is the curse on Judas that has echoed down through the ages. Luke is telling us that even though we know that Satan “entered” Judas, the betrayer is still responsible for his actions. We cannot justify our actions by blaming Satan.

While other gospels show Judas stalking out of the room, Luke’s disciples are bewildered, asking, “which one of them it could be who would do this.” (23) Judas has certainly kept his actions in the conspiracy well hidden.


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