Psalm 111; 1 Samuel 17:32–58; John 3:27–36

Psalm 111: This psalm, Alter informs us, is a “short acrostic,” i.e., each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence. It scans like a hymn that would be sung at worship as it describes God’s many wonderful qualities.
We know at the outset that it’s sung at worship: “I acclaim the Lord with full heart/ in the council of the upright and the assembly.” (1)

The next section recalls what God has done for the psalmist and for all Israel: “Great are the deeds of the Lord,/ discovered by all who desire them.” (2) I like the idea that of we but look around us we, too, will discover what God has done for us and for all humankind.

The poem then outlines what those wonderful qualities are, opening with the reality of God’s eternal nature: “Glory and grandeur His acts/ and His bounty stands for all time.”  (3)

God provides the necessities of life: “Sustenance He gives to those who fear Him,” (5a) and God never abandons his Covenant with Israel or with us: “He recalls forever His pact.” (5b)

God is the everlasting source of truth: “His handiwork, truth and justice,/ trustworthy all His precepts,/ Staunch for all time, forever/ fashioned in truth and right.”(7, 8) Notice how the psalmist repeats “truth,” Truthfulness is at the very core of God’s being. The obvious corollary is that as God-followers truth must be at the core of our being.

For me, the centerpiece of the psalm is, “Redemption He sent to His people,/ forever commanded His pact./ Holy and awesome His name.” (9) Of course for us Christians we know exactly what Redemption was sent not just to “his people” but for every human being.

Our psalmist concludes with a statement of what comes to all who know and trust God: “The beginning of wisdom—the fear of the Lord,/ good knowledge to all who perform it.” (10a) And a final reiteration of this psalm’s underlying theme: God stands for eternity and so must our worship: “His praise stands for all time.” (10b). When all is changing around us, there is the unchanging Solid Rock of Jesus Christ to whom we cling.

1 Samuel 17:32–58: This famous story begins with the incredulity of Saul, who “said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” (33) David explains that as a shepherd he’s been rescuing sheep from wild animals, including lions. David asserts that Goliath will be no different. What David says next is the underlying theme of the story: “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” (37) To be sure, David has skill, but above all, he trusts in God.

Saul dresses David in armor, but David cannot move under the weight. This is a clear indication from our authors that the weapons and defenses of man are superfluous when there is such overwhelming trust in God. However, David does not confront the giant unarmed; it’s just that he chooses his own weapon. This is a lesson to us that while others will give us advice and try to equip us “against the wiles of the devil,” it is we who must both trust in God and equip ourselves to defend (or in this case, offend). We cannot depend on others and exactly follow the means by which they do it.

Goliath approaches David and smirks “for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.” (42) [Our authors never fail to point out David’s physical beauty.] Goliath boasts he will cut David into little pieces, but David stands firm and replies,“You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (45) But there is bravado as well as trust in God as David hurls Goliath’s curse back at the giant: “I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” (46)

Which he proceeds to do. David quickly dispatches Goliath with a single stone to the forehead. [Interestingly, there’s no description of a slingshot, although the verb, “slung it” doubtless implies same.] David decapitates the dead giant and the “troops of Israel and Judah rose up with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath” (52) and take the day.

Now we encounter an anomaly that suggests different authors are involved here. Saul inquires “whose son is this young man?” and his servant Abner promises to find out. He comes back with David to the king, who tells him that he’s “the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” (58)

But isn’t this the same David who played the lyre in Saul’s time of depression? Or the David whom Saul came to love? All we can conclude is that timelines do not particularly bother our authors. The story and its focus on David’s trust in God is far more important than a few narrative details.

John 3:25–36: John the Baptist’s disciples are rather put out that this rabbi, whom John baptised, seems to be gaining popularity and usurping John’s role and therefore diminishing the perks of being John’s disciples. John tells them that jesus has been duly ordained because “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.” (27) He reminds them that he said quite clearly that he was not the Messiah, just the messenger. John realizes that his time is over and wisely says, “For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (29, 30) 

One has the impression here that our gospel writer is addressing a faction in his community that saw John the Baptist as the true Messiah and Jesus as the usurper.

This being the gospel of John, a lengthy theological discourse follows. The writer restates his original premise in the first words of the gospel that the Messiah comes directly from heaven: “The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (31) And therefore, it logically follows, “He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (34) I have to believe that John the gospel writer studied Greek philosophy and i=his skill is beautifully demonstrated here in how he presents irrefutable logical arguments.

Just in case we didn’t get it the first time, our gospel writer wraps up this disquisition with a brief summary of John 3:16-17: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.” (36) Once again our writer makes it crystal clear that there is only one way to God, and that is through the Word, Jesus.

Speak Your Mind