Psalm 108:1–5; 1 Samuel 11,12; John 1:29–42

Psalm 108:1–6: The first verses of this David psalm [which Alter points out are essentially the same as Psalm 57] suggest personal worship as the poet intones, “My heart is firm, O God./ Let me sing and hymn/ with my inward being, too.” (2) True worship requires the participation of our entire being, not just rote outward language and form. Unless our heart is fully engaged our singing and praying is mere play-acting.

This psalm certainly reinforces the image of David as musician: “Awake, O lute and lyre./ I would waken the dawn.” (3) [Which seems highly appropriate as I write this at 5:50 a.m. while it is still dark outside…]

From our engaged inner being, our act worship spreads outward to others. For the poet, that would be everybody: “Let me acclaim You among the peoples, Lord./ Let me hymn You among the nations.” (4) Evangelism and witness do not occur in isolation; they can only happen as an outcome of our entire being enveloped in a worshipful relationship with God.

We can celebrate this relationship with all beings because God’s mercy suffuses creation in its entirety: “For Your kindness is great over the heavens,/ and Your steadfast truth to the skies.” (5) As usual, the psalm places God in heaven looking down on his glorious creation: “Loom over the heavens, O God./ Over all the earth Your glory.” (6)

1 Samuel 11,12: Nahash the Ammonite is on a rampage and besieges the Israelites at Jabest. The inhabitants of that town attempt to surrender peacefully, but the Ammonite king asserts, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, namely that I gouge out everyone’s right eye, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel.” (11:2) The elders ask for a 7-day cease-fire so messengers can go to the rest of Israel and seek help.

Saul gets the message and “the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.” (11:6) In his anger he slaughters a yoke of oxen and sends the pieces throughout all Israel—reminiscent of the Levite who cut up his dead concubine and sent a piece to each tribe. Apparently this was a dramatic way of getting the word out that people are serious.  Saul sends the oxen steaks all throughout Israel, along with the threat to anyone who will not join in attacking the Ammonites will enjoy a fate just like the oxen. “Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one,” (7) and an army of 370,000 presents itself to Saul.

Hearing this, the inhabitants of Jabesh send word to the Ammonites that they’ll give up the next day. But instead of surrender, the Israelite army appears and slaughters the Ammonites. The people want to put the few Ammonite survivors to death, but Saul, truly a man of God at this point, says “No one shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has brought deliverance to Israel.” (11:13) Having proved his leadership, Saul is officially crowned king of Israel.

Samuel realizes that his time is over and that Saul is fully in charge. He asks the people if he’s done anything wrong or taken anything that is not his during the many years he has judged Israel. The people respond, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from the hand of anyone.” (12:4) This establishes his unassailable credibility for what he is about to tell them.

Samuel wants the people to fully understand the cost of rejecting God’s rule through the judges and crowning a king instead. Samuel  recapitulates the history of Israel and the many times they rejected God, but that God was merciful and how preserved them from the time when Jacob went down to Egypt to the recent victory over the Ammonites.

To prove that the people have done a wicked thing in rejecting God in favor of Saul, Samuel says God will send thunder and rain on the day of the wheat harvest. Which is exactly what happens. The people confess their evil, asking Samuel to “pray to the Lord your God for your servants, so that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of demanding a king for ourselves.” (12:19) Samuel replies that God will have mercy on them as long as they do not turn away from God. Further, he says, “do not turn aside after useless things that cannot profit or save, for they are useless.” (21)

Which is excellent advice to us as well: loving and obeying God is our highest priority. Yet we, Like Israel, find it so easy to be distracted by things such as seeking wealth or power or status that seem more important but that never are.

Samuel’s last words hang in the air down through the centuries of Israel’s checkered history under kings ranging from excellent to abysmal: “Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you.” (24) But it is his final sentence that predicts exactly what ultimately happened: “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” (12:25) As our authors writing from Babylon know all too well.

John 1:29–42: John’s description of Jesus’ baptism is theologically rich. First, in a direct quote from Isaiah, John announces, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (29) which is exactly the overarching theme of this Gospel. Even though they were second cousins, John did not apparently know Jesus before and asserts that his ministry of baptism existed solely “that he [the Messiah] might be revealed to Israel.” (31) John has received a vision that says that ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (33) For this gospel writer there is no voice speaking from heaven, rather it is John who says, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (34) Once again, our writer reasserts the them: it is the Lamb of God, who is also the Son of God, who has come to rescue all humankind.

Unlike the Synoptics John the Baptist is still on the scene, “standing with two of his disciples.” (35) Jesus walks by and John once again (in case we missed it the first time) exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (36) And two of John’s disciples decide to follow Jesus instead instead of John. Once again, our writer is making it clear that John was the messenger; Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus asks the two new recruits, “What are you looking for?” (38) The answer is they want to know where Jesus is staying. Jesus’ famous reply is, “Come and see.” (39) This being the Gospel of John, virtually every word Jesus says is operating at two levels: the physical and the theological. Jesus’ answer is not about where he is residing, but it is exactly Jesus’ invitation to all of us: we are to come and see what Jesus has done, is doing, for us.

It is Andrew who has recruited his brother Simon to “come and see” when he excitedly tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah.“(41) This realization is in contradistinction to the Synoptic accounts where it takes essentially being with Jesus for three years for the disciples realize that Jesus actually is the promised Messiah.

Simon, whom Jesus has never met, appears before Jesus, who already knows his name ” telling him, “You are Simon son of John.” (42). Just as Jesus know our names. All we need to do is “come and see.” And just as Jesus gave Simon a new name—Peter— Jesus transforms us as well. We may not have a new name, but our gospel writer is telling us that we become new persons when we are in relationship with Jesus.


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