Psalm 115:1–8; 1 Samuel 21:10–22:23; John 4:43–54

Psalm 115:1–8: This psalm draws a bright boundary between mankind and God. Only God is worthy of worship: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us/ but to Your name give glory/ for Your kindness and Your steadfast truth.” (1) Our psalmist goes on to ask and answer the mocking question of surrounding nations and religions: “Why should the nations say,/ ‘Where is their [Israel’s] god?‘” (2) The answer is obvious: God is invisible because he’s up above in heaven overseeing his creation: “when our God is in the heavens—/all that He has desired He has done.” (3)

The invisible Hebrew God was unique in a world that relied on carved deities, which our poet goes to mock in a creative polemic. He starts out making sure we know that these idols are in fact a human creation: “Their idols are silver and gold,/ the handiwork of man.”  (4)

He runs down the list feature-by-feature comparing their intrinsic lifelessness to humans, who are very much alive:
A mouth they have but they do not speak,
eyes they have, but they do not see.
Ears they have but they do not hear,
a nose they have but they do not smell.” (5, 6)

The pagan idols are without senses, unfeeling, immobile and silent:
Their hands—but they do not feel;
their feet—but they do not walk;
they make no sound with their throat.” (7)

Our psalmist then uses this lifelessness to turn a curse back on those who would place their trust in inanimate objects—that they become as lifeless as the objects they worship: “Like them may be those who make them,/ all who trust in them.” (8)

While our psalmist is calling out carved and decorated wooden figures, we would do well to read and reflect on the idols in our own lives. Into what inanimate objects that seem to have life, but are actually dead do we place our own trust? I think a modern idol is the Internet and especially, social media (and more darkly, pornography). We may think we are experiencing true life online, but it is a chimera. Only in real human relationships do we experience true life. Only in the living God in heaven do we worship in truth and not in vain.

1 Samuel 21:10–22:23: On the run from Saul, David comes to King Achish of Gath. The king’s servants mockingly recall “Is this not David the king of the land?” This mockery makes David fearful and to ensure he is not killed by Achish, “he pretended to be mad when in their presence.” (21:14) Achish, knowing he’s already surrounded by madmen, utters the famous line, “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?” (15)

David moves on and hides in the cave of Adullam. This must have been close to Bethlehem because “when his brothers and all his father’s house heard of it, they went down there to him.” (22:1)  A ragtag army of “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented” (22:2) forms around David and soon he has a retinue of 400 men.

David and his little army move on to Moab where the prophet Gad advises him to “not remain in the stronghold; leave, and go into the land of Judah.” (4) Which he does.

Meanwhile, Saul has become completely paranoid and obsessed with killing David. Saul’s servant, Doeg the Edomite, reveals that David received the sword of Goliath from Ahimelech the priest. The priest is brought before Saul, who accuses him of treason. Ahimelech protests his innocence and tells Saul, “Who among all your servants is so faithful as David? He is the king’s son-in-law, and is quick[c] to do your bidding, and is honored in your house.” (14) Our authors are making sure we know that David is the innocent party here.

Undeterred, Saul commands Doeg to kill the priests of Nob, including Ahimelech: “on that day he killed eighty-five who wore the linen ephod. Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he put to the sword.” (18, 19)

One of the priest’s sons, Abiathar, escapes and makes it to David’s camp, where David, upon hearing the news about Nob, takes responsibility for what has happened and tells Abiathar, “Stay with me, and do not be afraid; for the one who seeks my life seeks your life; you will be safe with me.” (23) Notice David’s confidence: even though is the object of a ferocious manhunt, he trusts God will protect him and tells the priest’s son that “you will be safe with me.” 

This passage draws the stark contrast between Saul, who has fallen into what can only be described as monomaniacal madness, and David, who is confident that God will protect him. And Saul will surely pay for his reprehensible act at Nob.

John 4:43–54: Jesus leaves Samaria and returns to Galilee. But he does not return anonymously: “the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.” (45) His first stop is Cana, “where he had changed the water into wine.” (46) This time, it’s the son of a royal official who begs Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his young son.

At first, Jesus is skeptical, believing the man is just looking for one of those signs and wonders he’s heard about. But the official persists: “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus relents, and tells him that his son will live. Since this gospel is all about belief, John tells us, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.” (50)

He encounters his servants running up to him before he arrives home. As Jesus had promised, his son has been healed and his servants tell him that the son began recovering at exactly the same time Jesus told him that his son would live. Once again, driving home his theme of belief, John tells us, “so he himself believed, along with his whole household.” (53)

I think John’s point about this remote control healing is that the physical Jesus, who was certainly not available to John’s community, nor to us, is not what’s required to experience Jesus’ healing power. But belief certainly is.


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