Psalm 119:81–88; 2 Samuel 17; John 9:35–41

Psalm 119:81–88: We reach the halfway point of this seemingly endless psalm…Our psalmist opens this stanza of supplication with a slightly romantic turn in describing his desire for a relationship with God’s word: “My being longs for Your rescue,/ for Your word I hope./ My eyes pine for Your utterance.” (81, 82a).  As we already know, he has endured some kind of trial, whose details he hasn’t really revealed. Here, he uses a rather arresting simile to describe his ability to follow God’s laws even under the most intense trials, “Though I was like a skin-flask in smoke,/ Your statutes I did not forget.” (83)

With this justification of faithfulness, the poet turns to supplication, wondering when God will give him justice: “When will You exact justice from my pursuers?” (84b) After all, he argues, unlike him, they do not follow God’s laws: “The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me,/ which are not according to Your teaching.” (85)

We finally get a glimpse of the psalmist’s heart as he abandons his rational arguments and simply cries out to God: “For no reason they pursued me—help me!” These pursuers have “nearly put an end to me on earth” (87a) while he again states his unwavering faithfulness to God’s word: “yet I forsook not Your decrees.” (87b)

The stanza concludes with a final appeal that God should rescue  him so that he can live in order to continue to obey God: “As befits Your kindness give me life,/ that I may observe Your mouth’s precept.” (88)

I think I know what’s bothering me about this psalm. The psalmist seems to desire a relationship with God’s word/ law/ precepts rather than a relationship with God himself. As I’ve observed many times already, this intense focus on word and law was certainly a foundational document for the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

2 Samuel 17: The traitorous adviser, Ahithophel, has more nastiness toward David up his sleeve as he suggests that Absalom appoint 12,000 men to pursue David and his people. His plan would be to assassinate David only, throwing his followers into panic. He promises, “I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband.” (3) Absalom and “the elders of Israel” are pleased with this suggestion.

Unaware that Hushai is David’s spy, Absalom asks the retainer whether or not Ahithophel’s plan is wise. Hushai replies, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” (8) pointing out that A’s plan is flawed because “your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the troops” (8) Hushai offers an alternative plan: “my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beer-sheba, like the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person.” (11) Absalom prefers this advice and prepares for battle.

Meanwhile, Hushai goes to the priests Zadok and Abiathar and tells them to send two servants to warn David. Unfortunately, the messengers are betrayed to Absalom and forced to hide in a well. Nevertheless, they elude capture and get the word to David, telling him to take his army and cross over the Jordan.

His advice ignored, Ahithophel goes home and hangs himself. Absalom takes his army, crosses the Jordan and camps in Gilead. Our authors name the people who brings supplies to David’s army as they hide out in the wilderness. The preparations for the battle about to come appear to be complete.

Is there a theological lesson here? Not really. This story shines a light on every human quality. Mendacity and treachery are hardly new to our age. But neither is courage and kindness.

John 9:35–41: John moves to the conclusion of the most symbolically and theologically fraught miracle in all the gospels. Jesus heard that the Pharisee had driven the healed man out of the temple and seeks him out. This is a great reminder that it is Jesus who seeks us out in order to have an relationship with us—quite a contrast to the 119 psalmist who is constantly seeking God.

Jesus asks the direct question that is at the foundation of this gospel: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The formerly blind man inquires for all of us, for this is the essence of the evangelicum—the Good News: “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” (36)

At this point, John the gospel writer is no longer being symbolic or theologically sophisticated: Jesus’ answer is perfectly direct: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” (37) And John is telling us that the man’s reply is our reply: “Lord, I believe.” (38). There it is. Three words, and once these words are uttered by the man, he worships Jesus. Exactly our response 2000 years later.

John draws his theological argument to a close by stating Jesus’ raison d’etre—why he came to earth in the first place: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”(39) Here, seeing/ blindness is strictly spiritual. Those who are formerly spiritually blind believe and thereby see Jesus and his salvific power. Those, who like the Pharisees, think they have gained spiritual insight through their own efforts and study (I’m thinking of you, 119 psalmist…) remain blind to the glorious reality of Jesus himself.

The Pharisees who come to Jesus and assert, “We see,” have not found salvation through the “seeing” of theological understanding or understanding. Thus, as Jesus informs them, they remain in sin rather than believing in him. It’s so simple that it’s obscure. Belief centers on one thing only: That Jesus is who he says he is. As usual, it’s a strictly binary choice.


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