Psalm 130; 1 Kings 12:25–13:22; John 16:17–33

Psalm 130: This brief penitential psalm opens with the psalmist’s cri de coeur, “From the depths I called You, Lord./ Master, hear my voice.” (1) He intensifies his urgency by asking, “May Your ears listen close to the voice of my plea.” (2a) The idea of living without God’s response is agonizing: “Master, who could endure?” (3b) And why the urgenccy for God to hear? Because only God is capable of forgiving our sins: “Forgiveness is Yours,/ so that You may be feared.” (4)

But so much of our relationship with God requires patience and undying hope: “I hoped for the Lord,/ my being hoped,/ and for His word I waited.” (5) This patient waiting is amplified in the next verse with a powerful comparison as the psalmist’s entire existence is encapsulated in eager anticipation of God’s response: “My being for the Master—/ more than dawn watchers watch for the dawn.” (6)

In the last two verses the psalm suddenly shifts from the first person to the collective Israel, as the hopeful anticipation is on behalf of the entire nation as God’s two greatest qualities come to the fore: “Wait, O Israel, for the Lord,/ for with the Lord is steadfast kindness,/ and great redemption is with Him.” (7) Even though Israel is awash in its sinfulness, the psalmist is sure of one great thing about a God who listens to prayer: “And he will redeem Israel/ from all its wrongs.” (8) God’s kindness and redemption will inevitably come, but when only we ask—and then wait patiently.

1 Kings 12:25–13:22: It doesn’t take newly-crowned king Jeroboam very long to lead the ten northern tribes of Israel astray. Concerned that his people will keep going down to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and be tempted to “revert to the house of David,” (12:26), which would result in him being overthrown by King Rehoboam and killed. So, he sets up two alternative worship sites, each featuring a golden calf, at Bethel and Dan. Even worse, he appoints non-Levite priests. The long descent of the northern kingdom into apostasy begins early on.

Disapproval is quick in coming. “Jeroboam was standing by the altar to offer incense, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel.” (13:1) Needless to say, this unnamed prophet is quick to condemn the altar and predicts that “A son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name.” (13:2) [The authors know Josiah’s name because they’re writing history and know who came.] Worse, the prophet predicts that Jeroboam and his ersatz priests will themselves be killed sacrificed on this very altar, which will then be destroyed. Jeroboam attempts to reach out and seize this prophetic interloper, but as he does so, his hand withers and the altar is torn down (apparently by God). Jeroboam begs the prophet to pray to God to restore his hand, which the prophet does. The king invites the prophet to dinner, but the prophet rather testily replies (Prophets are inevitably testy), “If you give me half your kingdom, I will not go in with you; nor will I eat food or drink water in this place,” (13:8) because that’s what God instructed him to not do. He departs.

The sons of another old prophet, who lives in Bethel, tell him about the incident with Jeroboam. The old man asks his sons to saddle a donkey and he sets out in pursuit of the other prophet, whom he finds the prophet sitting under an oak tree. The old man invites him to lunch. The younger prophet replies, “I cannot return with you, or go in with you; nor will I eat food or drink water with you in this place” (16) because God had told him so. The old prophet insists, the younger prophet relents, and the “man of God went back with him, and ate food and drank water in his house.” (19) Suddenly, the old prophet receives a word from God and tells his luncheon guest, “Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment that the Lord your God commanded you,” (21). As a result, the old prophet continues, “your body shall not come to your ancestral tomb.” (22)

So, what are our authors trying to tell us here with this odd encounter? I think it’s that prophets must listen and obey the word of God directly, not through the words of another man—even if he’s another prophet. In the end, God speaks one-to-one to prophets, not through proxies. I think this is a set up for many of the prophetic words that are going to follow in this history of the decline and fall of Israel and then eventually, Judah.

John 16:17–33: Jesus has been talking for quite some time now and his puzzling philosophical-theological discourse and introduction of the Advocate have only created more confusion But the issue that concerns them most is Jesus’ statement that he is going away. This is not part of their plan. They think they are in Jerusalem to see Jesus overthrow the religious establishment, if not the Roman rulers.

Jesus is a bit more direct in predicting that like a woman in labor, there is pain followed by joy: “you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” (20) In addition to joy, there is Jesus’ great promise: “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (23) Well, that sounds pretty good, but notice that the gifts they will receive are not power or wealth but one simple outcome: “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” (24) It is through Jesus—and Jesus alone—that our joy is completed. Happiness may have many parents, but joy comes from only one place.

Jesus finally admits, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” (25) The disciples must have been relieved to hear that. The light is dawning as Jesus puts it finally in plain language: “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (27) And once again here in this gospel, it is all about belief.But now it’s not just intellectual belief, but it is belief leavened with love.

The disciples get it!  They tell Jesus, Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” (29, 30) And there it is: they have acknowledged the truth of what our gospel writer said much earlier in John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he sent his only son…” 

Jesus departure is near, but love and joy have trumped confusion and concern. And that, I think, is the core message of this marvelous but often frustrating gospel. We believe that God loves us and through Jesus our joy becomes full.


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