Psalm 106:40–48; 1 Samuel 2:12–36; Luke 24:1–12

Psalm 106:40–48: I hope God never gets as angry with us as he did with Israel: “And the Lord’s wrath blazed against His people,/ and He abhorred their estate.” (40) The poet references the various invasions of Israel by the Philistines and others: “and gave them into the hand of nations,/ and their haters ruled over them.” (41) These were desperate times as “their enemies oppressed them,/ and they were subject to their power.” (42)

But God is relentlessly merciful and “Many times did He save them.” (43a) Nevertheless, Israel continues to sin against God and “they rebelled against His counsel/ and were brought low through their misdeeds.” (43b) And again and again, “He saw they were in straits,/ when He heard their song of prayer.” (44) And yet once again, God has mercy on Israel, but also reminds them of their side of the Covenant: “And He recalled for them His pact,/ relented through His many kindnesses./And He granted them mercy/ in the eyes of our captors.” (45, 46)

We arrive at the reason our psalmist has taken us through Israel’s history and mentioned again and again how Israel drifted away from God into worshipping false gods, but that God still had mercy. As he writes, Israel is once again in dire straits and captive to another nation (I presume Babylon) and as so often before, the psalmist cries out once again for God to have mercy and restore the nation:
“Rescue us, Lord our God
and gather us from nations
to acclaim Your holy name
and to glory in Your praise.” (47)

A simple but joyous conclusion concludes this fascinating psalm of supplication: “And all the people say: Amen, hallelujah!” (48)

So, what do we learn from this psalm besides the condensed details of Israel’s checkered history expressed in poetic form? We learn that God is indeed the God of second chances. And third, and fourth, and… Our sins are great but God’s mercy is greater.

 1 Samuel 2:12–36: Eli’s sons are classic PK’s—priest’s kids—and “had no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priests to the people.” (13) The authors provide detailed examples of their malfeasance as they steal the good meat of sacrifices and even demand, “Give meat for the priest to roast; for he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” (15) Needless to say, “the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt.” (17)

Our authors brilliantly weave the contrasting story of young Samuel into this grim narrative, including the sweet detail that “His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” (19) Eli blessed Elkanah and Hannah and as a result of this blessing, and having dedicated Samuel to God’s work, Hannah has five more children.

But this brief sunny period passes quickly and we return to the grim story of Eli’s sons. Eli makes a half-hearted plea to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people.” (23) He even tries logic: if they sin directly against God, no one will be able to intercede for them, not even their father.”But they would not listen to the voice of their father.” (25)

In the meantime, even though he was not a Levite, “the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” (26)

A “man of God,” (presumably an angel) shows up and tells Eli hav Levites were specially chosen, pointing out that priests already get “all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel.” (28) But the sons are greedy beyond this. As a result, even though God promised that Eli’s descendants would be priests for all time, the angel now asserts that God “will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestor’s family, so that no one in your family will live to old age.” (31) Only Eli will be left to mourn the loss of his family and the end of his family line. Moreover, as a sure sign that this is God’s action, the angel announces that the “fate of your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you—both of them shall die on the same day.” (34)

So, why does Eli receive such harsh treatment when it’s his sons that have sinned so greatly? I think that Eli has observed their wrongdoing but has excused, perhaps even justified, their wrong behavior. If nothing else, this story is a lesson that parents do indeed bear some responsibility for the behavior of their children.

Of course the other thing that’s going on here is that the authors must carefully set up how Samuel, who is not a Levite, becomes a priest of Israel.

Luke 24:1–12: We arrive at Luke’s description of the Resurrection. The women arrive spices in hand and find the “stone rolled away from the tomb” (2) and the tomb empty. Two angels appear and as usual, induce great fear: “The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.” (5)  Unlike most angelic visits they don’t tell the women to “Fear not” but simply announce rather brusquely IMHO, the words that signify the hinge of history: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (5)

Luke’s angels go on to remind the women—and Luke’s community and us—that Jesus predicted all this, including “that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (7)

The women do indeed recall this and “returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” (11) Luke goes on to emphasize the crucial role of women in his account of the Resurrection and names three of them: “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James,” (10) as well as other unnamed women. In short, it is women who Luke sees as equals to the men, which stands in contrast to the rules of the Old Covenant where only men could encounter God. Something brand new is happening here.

Unsurprisingly, the women are greeted with more than a little skepticism: “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (11) But Peter, being Peter, gets up and goes to check out the tomb for himself. Unlike John’s account (John 20:1-10) where Peter is accompanied by another disciple (probably John himself), here Luke seems to suggest that Peter went to the tomb alone.

Of course it’s these small discrepancies among witnesses that lend historical authenticity. Had all four gospel writers written exactly the same account with the same details of who went to the tomb or where the angels were or what they said we’d be pretty sure the Resurrection story was fiction. The differences among the gospels only strengthen the credibility of what happened on Easter morning.

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